Image credit: Solar Aid
It's not just in Haiti that solar can play a huge role in development and aid work. In fact, solar could prove to be a game changing innovation anywhere in the world where electricity is unavailable or unreliable. Solar Aid—the UK-based charity that is aiming to change lives in rural Africa through small-scale solar—has had a wild ride since its launch back in 2006. Last year the young organization was shortlisted as UK charity of the year in 2009, and if a new article over at The Ecologist is anything to go by, the next two years are going to be even more ambitious. Crucially, Solar Aid understands that it's not just the technology you promote but how you promote it that really makes the difference. Outlining the game plan of Solar Aid, Charlotte Webster explains how Solar Aid has created the 'Ravi' (named after an Indian sun god)—a kit consisting of a 1.8 watt solar photovoltaic panel; a similar sized battery with a hangable light and a mobile phone charge converter. Once charged the light will last six hours, giving rural communities an alternative to expensive, polluting and unhealthy kerosene, and allowing people to work or study past dusk, communicate with the outside world, and freeing up cash for school fees or agricultural inputs.
Crucially, Solar Aid is not giving away the kits, nor is it selling the kits for profit. Rather, it is training and funding teams of "Sunny Money" entrepreneurs who are setting up their own distribution networks as a supplemental income:
"Sunny Money salespeople who have been working for the last year sell on average one Ravi unit each day. The money they make is often put towards school fees - £50 a term. [...] Breaking the tie with kerosene is leading to more cash all round. The introduction of the 'Ravi' has led to up to 70 percent more disposable income for many, as well as healthier families and more time to study and socialise.
So where next for SolarAid and Sunny Money? According to Webster they have big plans—looking to distribute over 1 million Ravi units by 2012. To do so, the plan will require a threefold increase in SolarAid staff across East Africa to support the Sunny Money sales network and oversee the delivery of physical sales spaces for reps. And that expansion needs money to get it off the ground.
Donations to SolarAid can be made online, with as little as £15 (US$25) making a significant contribution to sharing the "Gift of Light".