SELF — Powering a Brighter 21st Century
It’s hard to imagine a day without the internet, let alone without electricity. While we happily check up on favorite blogs, email our friends and work through our virtual companies about two billion people don’t even have access to electricity. In many developing countries solar energy is an abundant natural resource. Harnessing this resource can vastly improve the quality of rural life. Since its inception in 1990, the non-profit Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), has launched solar household lighting projects in eleven countries, demonstrating that decentralized photovoltaic systems can be used to affordably electrify remote villages and even help bridge the digital divide. Converting sunlight into electricity without emitting greenhouse gases, photovoltaic systems and can be installed quickly anywhere in the world, no matter how isolated or remote. SELF facilitates the installation of these systems. As a result, rural households, schools, clinics, and community centers now have the capacity to generate clean, electric power by simply installing solar panels on their rooftops. When combined with wireless communications dramatic improvements in the overall health, education, and economy of rural villages follow. Villages no longer need to be isolated just because of their physical remoteness.
An example of SELF’s excellent work is the completed project in several villages in Jagawa, Nigeria on the edge of the Sahara desert. There the village health clinics now benefit from solar energy, enabling health officers to see patients at night. Vaccine refrigerators allow more people to be vaccinated at greater frequency and fans increase the comfort level of staff and patients alike.
Illuminated classrooms host well attended, evening adult education classes, as well as serving a place for daytime students to do their homework. Each school has also been outfitted with a computer. Plans to connect to the internet via the State’s broadband system are in the works.
Streetlights provide bright places to congregate and enjoy the cool evening as well as allowing several new food-selling businesses to operate beneath the lights at these new market locations. In addition, many streetlights illuminate the path to water taps and increase overall night time security. Home lighting systems also vastly improve safety. Compared to the kerosene lights that they replace, solar lighting offers a better light without the inherent fumes and fire danger of the old lamps.
Solar-powered micro-enterprise buildings provide electricity to 6 small businesses. Each business enjoys increased efficiencies as a result of electricity. Tailors can use electric machines as opposed to manual ones barbers can use electric clippers and so forth. Using photovoltaic systems and wireless internet connections as a starting point, SELF is creating models of village-based micro-enterprise that can be replicated and expanded in collaboration with other NGO’s and corporations. Commercially viable village-owned businesses generate income for the community and are meant to promote local self-reliance.
SELF projects are successful due to a high degree of participation from locals, particularly women. Each project is planned and operated sustainably with respect to economic and ecological principles and aims to introduce new technologies while preserving local traditions and culture.