Approximately 1.3 billion people live without regular access to energy. People are forced to use fuels that pollute and cause respiratory illnesses, like kerosene and biomass, and spend long hours time collecting fuel. It is a global crisis that is harming the health and well-being of people in the developing world, in addition to harming the planet.
Ending energy poverty is about more than helping people see at night — it’s about economic opportunity, safer and healthier communities, better educational opportunities and connection to the rest of the world.
A number of organizations are working to bring solar-powered energy solutions to the developing world. Solar power is the best alternative because it doesn’t require any prior infrastructure or use of existing resources. It’s safe for nighttime light, and can generate power for other uses, such as charging cell phones or powering medical equipment.
Below is a look at a handful of the many organizations working to end energy poverty using solar power.
Isang Litrong Liwanag, or 1 Liter of Light, uses the Solar Bottle Light design – a cheap, sustainable, light bulb alternative – to light buildings during the day around the world.
The Solar Bottle Light requires a one-liter plastic bottle, bleach, and a bottle-shaped hole in the roof. The plastic bottle is filled with a mixture of water, and bleach. It’s then capped, sealed, and placed in the hole halfway below and halfway above the roof. The water inside the bottle refracts and disperses sunlight, giving the bottle the power of a 50-60 watt light bulb.
The design was pioneered by Alfredo Moser, a mechanic in Sao Paulo, who needed to light his workshop when his neighborhood suffered a long cut in electricity in 2002. Since then, students from MIT have worked with 1 Liter of Light to help develop the design further.
Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF)
SELF, a DC-based non-profit, grew out of an organization that sought to illuminate rural India in the 1990s. Since then, the company has installed solar electric systems in places including Benin, Lesotho, Burundi, Kenya and, most notably, Haiti, where the organization created systems that power 11 health care facilities and a hospital run by the NGO Partners In Health. Through this installation, the organization has improved the quality of medical services for over 170,000 Haitians by powering lights, microscopes, vaccine refrigerators and other lifesaving equipment with renewable energy.
Solar Sister is a social enterprise committed to eradicating energy poverty by encouraging economic development. Solar Sister gives women entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow a sustainable business selling solar products. The organization reinvests any profits back into their network of entrepreneurs, creating a sustainable business with a positive impact on the environment and the community.
We CARE Solar
WE CARE Solar is a non-profit organization that manufactures the Solar Suitcase, a portable solar system, for health clinics. The Solar Suitcase is easy to use and is designed to be used at night when emergency health care is needed. The suitcase comes with highly efficient medical lighting, as well as power for mobile communication, computers, and medical devices. To date, the design has been used in almost 200 clinics in 17 countries, including Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and South Sudan.
To replace the highly polluting cooking stoves traditionally used in rural areas, Project Surya invented a stove that requires less than half as much biomass fuel, and emits less greenhouse gases. The improved stove has a solar lamp and a solar-panel powered fan to improve combustion. The project will help divert black carbon, methane, and ozone from the environment. In addition, because exposure to traditional biomass fuel can cause upper respiratory complications, low birth weight, eye diseases, and even blindness, replacing the stoves with clean technology is expected to improve public health.
Top image: A Solar Bottle Light, courtesy 1 Liter of Light.