Development Challenges, South-South Solutions April 2011Stories
Solar Sisters Doing it for Themselves: Tackling African Light Famine
A social enterprise is seeking to capture the power of the sun to bring lightand economic opportunity to women in Africa. Using a direct-marketingdistribution system, it sells solar lamps and lanterns to some of Africa'sremotest communities. Solar Sister (www.solarsister.org), launched inUganda in 2010, is hoping to do for power generation what mobile phoneshave done for communication in Africa: make a technological leap to a modelof grassroots power generation, rather than waiting for large-scale power schemes to eventually reach the poor and rural.More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricitysupply, of which more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (WorldBank).Solar power is being creatively used in many countries to tackle energypoverty and give women, in particular, viable sources of income. In India,whole villages are already using solar energy and improving their standard of living. Various companies and projects are selling inexpensive solar appliances - from cooking stoves to lanterns and power generators - acrossthe country.A billion
Africans use just four percent of the world's electricity (TheEconomist). Energy poverty is already harming further economic growth anddevelopment gains. With Africa's population expected to double to 2 billion by2050, the gap between people's needs and the power available is stark: inNigeria, out of 79 power stations, only 17 are working (The Economist).A report by the International Finance Corporation called the sub-Saharansolar market the largest in the world - a market of 65 million would-becustomers, who could access off-grid lighting over the next five years (IFC).The report anticipated high growth rates of 40 to 50 percent for anyoneentering the market, with less than one percent of the market currently beingserved.Being able to see at night unleashes a vast range of possibilities, such asbeing able to work or study later. But for the very poor, lighting is often themost expensive household expense.As Solar Sister founder Katherine Lucey points out, households "rely onkerosene lanterns and candles for light. They spend up to 40 percent of their family income on energy that is inefficient, insufficient and hazardous.Widespread use of kerosene has an adverse impact on local air quality aswell as on global climate change.