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SELF
Many developing nations struggle with energy poverty, which is defined as “a lack of access to modern energy services.” According to Energypedia, “access to energy is a prerequisite of human development.” Electricity is also essential for the “provision of social services such as education and health.” Energy access also links to the economic growth and development of a nation. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission of harnessing solar energy to support social and economic development in disadvantaged communities.

Benefits of Solar Power

According to ZenEnergy, the use of solar energy helps to decrease the effects of climate change by reducing fossil fuel reliance, air pollution and water usage. Solar energy does not burn fuel, eliminating the harmful gas emissions that stem from fossil fuel energy production. Additionally, unlike the finite nature of fossil fuels, solar energy is abundant. Furthermore, solar energy does not require water to generate electricity. Solar power is a cost-effective and sustainable renewable energy source that can help reduce energy poverty throughout the world.

Addressing Energy Poverty

SELF implements solar projects to sustainably create energy, which provides for basic human needs and economic development. When SELF was first established in 1990, the organization began by fitting individual home solar-powered systems. However, the company yearned to make a larger impact with more long-term benefits. As a result, SELF adjusted its goals to include the creation of a business model “that could be self-sustained in communities” in developing countries. Thus, the Whole Village Development Model was born.

This “all-encompassing approach” utilizes solar energy from the sun to power entire villages while improving “healthcare, education and food security.” In 2001, SELF celebrated the opening of its first “solar-powered computer lab” in a high school in Maphephethe, South Africa. Due to these solar-powered capabilities, student enrollment at the school increased by 40% and graduation rates rose by close to 15%.

Solar Power in Developing Communities

Although the entire world can benefit from solar energy, impoverished countries are especially targeted to improve air quality and reduce health issues linked to the burning of fuelwood, reports Science Direct. Solar photovoltaic is a type of technology that can provide renewable energy in impoverished communities. This particular solar source eliminates the financial burden of grid extensions. Grid extensions are not viable options in communities with scarce traditional energy sources. For many developing countries, solar energy provides the opportunity for a better life, and, environmental sustainability is a bonus.

Overseeing Vaccine Refrigerators

Among other projects, in partnership with PATH, “an international nonprofit global health organization” located in the U.S. state of Seattle, SELF recently pledged to enlist evaluation teams to ensure vaccine refrigerators are functioning effectively in vaccination sites around Haiti, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Developing countries often lack proper mechanisms to monitor the efficiency of vaccine refrigerators. The goal of the partnership is to provide this assurance.

Two solar technicians from SELF are responsible for visiting 42 sites in Haiti to evaluate refrigerators on a monthly basis. After a one-year evaluation, SELF analyzes the data and reports on it to the World Health Organization. As inadequate refrigeration can have adverse public health implications, the vaccine cold storage monitoring project is just one example of the important work SELF does to support global communities aside from solar energy projects.

SELF’s Commitment to Disadvantaged Communities

Presently, SELF is working on several different projects with the main objective of improving living conditions in developing countries. Some of its projects include bringing clean water to West Africa as well as expanding micro-grids and providing solar training in Haiti. SELF continues to light up communities in need with new projects and approaches that harness the sustainable power of the sun.

Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Self-sufficient Energy Production in OdanthuraiOdanthurai, a small village in Tamil Nadu, India, is the first in its region to incorporate wind, solar and biogas energy into its community. India is running out of the resources normally used to receive electricity. Since imports are expensive, using solar energy will boost the economy in the long term. Using solar energy will also help many villages, such as Odanthurai, to gain access to clean electricity. Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai will help many villagers gain access to clean electricity and, as a result, alleviate poverty.

Why Odanthurai Converted to Self Sufficiency Energy

When farmer Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam was elected council president of Odanthurai, he became invested in the development of the community and village as a whole. Shanmugam fought for access to cleaner water, as well as better sanitation and roads. He then began realizing that implementing these additions, such as the installations of street lights, drinking water plants and filtering points, was increasing the village’s electricity bills. In an India Climate Dialogue interview, Shanmugam admitted that “the electricity bill was only INR 2,000 (USD $30) when I joined, and it increased to INR 150,000 (USD $2,220) in just two years.”

Shanmugam realized that change was necessary in order to sustain Odanthurai without causing extensive electricity bills. In the long run, clean energy would allow for a reduction in power bills. Electricity bills were making up 60% of the council’s expenses. This was a hindrance that prevented them from implementing any other developmental changes. Shanmugam began looking into alternative means of energy.

Implementing Clean Energy in Odanthurai

The first change Shanmugam made in Odanthurai was to replace the electricity-run water pump with a biomass gasifier. The resulting cost showed a reduction from the previous cost by almost 70%. This was a significant cutback from the state of the village’s electricity beforehand. Additionally, Shanmugam established two solar lights in Odanthurai. This was a step toward renewable energy that saved the village a total of 5000 INR.

The success of biogas and solar energy bolstered interest in exploring alternatives for electricity. Eventually, the council bought a windmill. The resulting energy that the windmill created was enough to sell to the state as well as pay off the local villages’ bank loans. Shanmugam’s statement on the self-sufficient energy production that he helped to effectuate was simply, “[The village councils] in India should take steps to address development on their own. If this can be done in Odanthurai, it can be done anywhere in India.”

Clean Energy’s Role in Poverty Reduction

While clean energy such as biogas, solar and wind energy is important for the environment, it also has a strong link to poverty reduction. The cost of installing electricity in the village was infringing on their budget for developmental changes. Using clean energy, which reduces power bills, can help alleviate poverty by allowing impoverished communities to focus on other necessary improvements such as hygiene and education.

According to a 2015 report by Synapse Energy, harnessing renewable energy allowed the state of California to save more than $15 million in the first six months. This can be similarly applied to other regions in the world, as the long-term costs are proven to significantly decline over time. As a result, villages can focus on areas that need further development without spending a majority of their budget on electricity bills.

Organizations Providing Assistance

While Shanmugam and the village council were able to implement self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai, other activists and organizations are also taking action toward advocating for clean energy. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a non-governmental organization that provides solar energy to underprivileged regions around the world. SELF points out that 14% of the global population lacks energy access, which is a whopping 0.9 billion people. Since 1996, SELF has conducted its projects in about 25 countries around the world. Some of their notable projects include providing excess energy from solar vaccine refrigerators to power medical equipment. It also has been improving online learning in South America and powering telemedicine in the Amazon rainforest.

Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai acts as a powerful example to the rest of the world. Clean energy has the power to change the world and alleviate poverty. It is time for other communities and countries to look toward self-sufficient energy options and see how they can improve the lives of their people.

– Esha Kelkar
Photo: Unsplash

Solar Energy in Benin
In Benin, a country in West Africa, only 11% of the rural population has access to electricity. This deficit contributes to poor nutrition and health, particularly in rural communities. Additionally, about 40% of the country’s 12 million citizens live below the poverty line. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization that uses solar-powered water pumps and solar drip irrigation to improve agriculture, increase access to clean drinking water and economically empower women in Benin, all with a focus on sustainability. Recent innovations utilizing solar energy in Benin are improving conditions for female farmers across the country.

Solar-Pump Water Stations: Benefiting Women and Girls

In the Kalalé District of northeast Benin, there are only 113 sanitary water sources for a population of 180,000 people. Many potable wells require women and girls to travel long distances outside their villages. This lack of available energy, known as energy poverty, increases the risk for women and girls of becoming targets of sexual violence. To avoid danger, many women and girls take routes to alternate water sources, such as nearby streams or open wells of contaminated water. Relying on these local water sources poses another significant health risk: water-borne diseases are responsible for about 15% of all deaths in Benin.

SELF has built 20 wells in the Kalalé District since 2011 and is currently working to install solar-pump water stations in the region. Funded by a grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), this initiative will install a new solar-pump water station in 24 villages, bringing clean, sanitary water to about 82,000 people. These solar-pump water stations use sunlight—a clean, renewable energy source—to increase access to clean water without emitting greenhouse gases. They also do not require batteries and can last at least 10 years without replacement.

With these solar-pump water stations, women and girls in 24 villages will no longer have to choose between a long, dangerous walk and contaminated water. By providing solar-powered technology to pump clean drinking water, SELF is reducing the prevalence of water-borne diseases in northeast Benin’s rural communities, as well as the risk of sexual violence for women and girls.

Solar Drip Irrigation: Empowering Women Farmers

In northeast Benin, the dry season is long and severe. According to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is “nearly impossible to grow food” for six months of the year. This especially harms women farmers, who are more likely to be living under the poverty line, as well as women and girls who must travel longer distances to collect water for irrigation.

The Solar Electric Light Fund created the Solar Market Garden (SMG) project to reduce malnutrition and food insecurity in Benin year-round. For this initiative, SELF used solar-powered well pumps to operate drip irrigation systems on 11 female-operated farms designated as Solar Market Gardens, impacting 400 women farmers in 10 villages throughout the Kalalé district. Each garden produces more than 4,000 pounds of food every month. As a result of this project, 66,000 more people have reliable access to fresh produce, increasing food security, nutrition and health. For rural villages in northeast Benin, access to solar energy can reduce hunger without negatively affecting the environment.

In addition to improving agriculture, SELF’s Solar Market Gardens also empower women and girls in Benin. Female farmers involved in the project can adequately feed their families, earn a larger and more reliable income and gain reputations as entrepreneurs. Women’s economic empowerment is crucial for poverty reduction because, according to U.N. Women, it “increases economic diversification and income equality” and grants women more “voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels.” At the same time, women and girls in each village can focus more on their education and other economic activities instead of water collection. According to the World Bank, educated women and girls are more likely to live healthier lives, earn an income and have fewer children. They are also less likely to marry as minors.

Encouraging Poverty Reduction

Widespread access to energy, especially electricity, is an essential component of poverty reduction because it allows more people to reliably access clean water and adequate food. The Solar Electric Light Fund reduces poverty and food insecurity in northeast Benin. Others can easily replicate their initiatives, directly benefitting women and girls and creating more sustainable communities. Overall, the rising popularity of solar energy in Benin gives hope to women and girls across the nation.

– Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

Off-Grid Solar TechnologyEnergy poverty refers to people who lack access to modern energy services. They aren’t able to use an array of technologies, primarily electricity. Gaining energy access is a gateway to additional resources, and having it can lift families and communities out of poverty as a whole. Access to energy is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate energy poverty by 2030. Off-grid solar technology is regarded as one of the promising ways to achieve this.

Off-Grid Solar Technology

Currently, there are 840 million people who lack access to electricity and 573 million of those people reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. While 153 million people a year have been gaining electricity, remote areas have proven to be especially hard to reach. In areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa that are far from cities, off-grid solar technology is being used to generate electricity where it was previously unobtainable. Additionally, off-grid solar technology is now also being used to power water pumps, irrigation systems and refrigeration, making off-grid technology more promising than ever to solve energy poverty.

Bboxx

One company that has made extraordinary strides in increasing energy access is Bboxx. Bboxx’s mission is to aid developing countries through their decentralized solar-powered systems. To do so, they design, create, distribute and manage this off-grid solar technology. So far, Bboxx has positively impacted over one million people. It has allowed 350,000 solar home systems to be installed.

The technologies Bboxx creates are safer and cheaper than the kerosene-powered systems traditionally used in homes without electricity. Bboxx estimates the switch to using their clean, solar energy saves customers $200 a year. Additionally, it allows customers to pay for only what they actually consume, which is a cost-effective system that is monetarily achievable for its targeted customers.

To make their company as accessible and effective as possible, they created a system called Bboxx Pulse. This platform makes it easy for a utility company to monitor and serve all Bboxx customers. This even applies to the customers who live in rural areas that were previously hard to communicate with. To implement this and all of their other technology, Bboxx has formed partnerships with some of the countries’ governments it operates in. Doing this ensures that its technology is stable and supported.

Solar Electric Light Fund

Another organization dedicated to providing energy to communities in need is the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF). It uses solar projects to increase healthcare, education, water and food security and economic development in under-resourced areas globally.

One of SELF’s programs is installing solar-pump water stations to areas that contain heavily contaminated water. It is currently working to install 24 of these stations in the Kalalé District of Benin in West Africa. This will provide clean water to 82,000 people. This is a life-changing development for this community, as 19% of deaths in this area are due to contaminated water. Access to clean water will drastically improve overall health in the area. It will also increase the safety of girls and women who usually had to travel long distances to obtain water for their families.

Additionally, SELF has extensively worked on installing solar-powered technologies in Haiti to improve public health and energy access. However, these systems are unsustainable unless they can be maintained by trained workers. To solve this issue, SELF formed Haiti’s National Solar Training Center (NSTC). This program trains students to become solar technicians, which in turn provides well-paying jobs to Haitians while making their solar infrastructures sustainable. Overall, organizations such as Bboxx and SELF are increasing the safety and health of thousands of communities around the world by providing them with off-grid solar technology.

 

Hannah Allbery

Photo: Flickr