We already know that solar can replace dangerous kerosene lanterns in African homes, and that investment in solar improves school performance in impoverished rural areas. But it's not just about light, and it's not just about school kids.
Solar power can help empower adults too through access to computers and other communication tools.The UK-based charity Solar Aid is already pioneering pay-as-you-go solar to charge cell phones and lighting in remote communities. Now a new project has just brought basic, low cost computing to a community center on a remote island in Tanzania. The aim is to provide basic IT and English language tuition as an empowerment tool for rural villagers:
The systems chosen comprise four workstations assembled to a local design, each using only 15-18W each. This is very efficient, compared to the average 150W used for UK workstation. The technology will be used predominantly to focus on English language tuition, with specialised software being used for this. General computing will also be taught using word processors, spreadsheets. On the first day of being operational, an astounding 36 young people turned up to receive training – many of whom were girls, eager to learn about IT and what it could enable to them to do.
With rapid urbanization and migration from country to town putting huge demands on cities in Africa, investing in communication and energy infrastructure for rural areas is not just about helping villagers. It's about providing support for a viable economy wherever people choose to live. And, much like cell phones have made landlines unnecessary in many parts of Africa, by delivering that investment through renewable energy there is a good chance that rural communities can leapfrog the dinosaur energy systems of yesteryear and go directly to something better.