Small-Scale Solar Energy
In a remote Cameroon village, two elderly women installed solar panels to shed light in a neglected region. The village, Muyengue Trouble, sits isolated behind Mount Cameroon and off the national electricity grid.

Without access to electricity, poor rural women suffer the most. These women must walk miles to gather fuel wood, yet nearly two million die annually from the indoor pollution this wood produces.

The people of Muyengue Trouble relied heavily on wood, kerosene, gas and fuel, reports Nelly Shella Yonga Tchaptchuet of the Rural Women Development Center (RUWDEC.)

Though functionally illiterate, these women developed a strong understanding of solar technology and helped light their village.

The RUWDEC offered Francesca Moki and Helen Ntuengue the opportunity to study solar electrification at the Barefoot College in India. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) partnered with the college to fund their training.

For six months, these women attended the college before returning to Cameroon. Today, Moki and Ntuengue assemble and mount solar panels in houses, as well as chargers, controllers and batteries. These woman have installed the panels free of cost for more than 500 people in 98 households.

Hydropower in Malawi: Affordable to All?

This success offers hope for expansion. Najat Rochdi, the United Nations Resident Representative in Cameroon, reports: “We are going to discuss with RUWDEC on how to move the project forward and possibly scale it to other regions.”

Joyce Banda, the Malawian president, recently declared: “Let there be light in every home.”

Today, only one percent of the rural population benefits from the national power grid. The power grid relies on hydroelectric power plants along the Shire River, but aquatic weeds and sedimentation limit the flow. As a result, those in rural Malawi use alternative sources of energy.

The use of alternative sources threatens agricultural sustainability in the region. Without access to electricity, locals must depend on wood and charcoal. This forces a damaging cycle of cause and effects: farmers rely on deforestation for more land, and soil erosion and increased run-off further degrades the land.

Yet these farmers cannot use modern technology to farm sustainably without electricity.

And if the government successfully generates hydropower, could the poorest Malawians afford it? Most rural Malawians cannot afford the fees to connect. As the director of solar energy firm contends, hydroelectric power in this region leaves rural homes in the dark.

Small-scale Energy Development

Depending on the government to allocate energy efficiently and fairly may fail; equipping locals with the tools to deliver it may not.

A nongovernmental organization recently installed solar-powered energy kiosks in Malawi. This allows local men and women to rent “battery boxes” at a low cost. In addition, a new company MEGA offers micro-hydropower to rural regions of the country.

Though ambitious, top-down solutions may not benefit the remote villages, small-scale interventions both empower women and offer a sustainable solution.

Access to electricity divides the rich and poor worldwide. To those in Cameroon and Malawi, electricity means light for children to read at night. Electricity means growth in local business. Electricity means equity.

 – Ellery Spahr 

Sources: Sci Dev Net Analysis Blog, Sci Dev Net, International Food Policy Research Institute
Photo: Sci Dev Net