Thursday, 8 May 2008

Power of the sun

Photo from Flickr user Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia. Creative Commons licence.

A 56 year old widow from Cameroon trains to become a barefoot solar engineer. When she has learned how to assemble and repair solar lanterns and the solar panels, batteries and circuitry for solar household systems, she will return to her community and help provide solar electricity there.

In a previous post I mentioned the work done by SolarAid, and in another the efforts needed to provide clean lighting to rural areas in Africa.

By far the majority of the rural population in Malawi uses kerosene lanterns for light. Kerosene is

  • harmful to health - it can cause respiratory and eyesight problems, or accidental poisoning.
  • dangerous - accidental fires resulting in burns and even death.
  • expensive, increasingly so, for poor rural families where the cost can amount to 10% to 25% of income even with subsidies.
  • inefficient - kerosene cost/useful light is 325 times higher than the inefficient incandescent bulb and 1,625 times higher than compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • a major source of greenhouse gases - one lamp can produce a tonne of CO2 in about ten years and there are 1 - 1.5 million of these lamps in Malawi.

SolarAid is training 120 young people in Malawi, orphaned or affected by HIV/AIDS, to build and sell small solar lanterns and chargers for mobile phones or radios.

The project will provide

  • employment
  • better quality and less expensive lighting
  • increased access to renewable types of lighting
  • health and safety improvements
  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Renewable Energy World


  1. I have big reservations about this scheme - I think it is the same one I've read about before. If so, the women are deliberately trained but not certified, in order to close off the option of leaving their own area and possibly seeking employment as an engineer elsewhere.

    I can see all the reasons for this, but I find it hard to accept a programme that deliberately seeks to keep women just educated enough to do what the organisation wants (install solar, laudible of course), but not educated enough to leave and pursue their lives as they wish.

  2. If that's the case, I'm horrified. There was no indication that the training was for women only in the reports I read (though the illustrations are all women), but I haven't read anything other than the two I cited. I confess I haven't been keeping up with my reading - 1000+ in my reader!

    However I wouldn't have thought that not being certified would prevent anyone working in this way in rural Africa. This scheme appears to be encouraging them to set up as entrepreneurs so if they can do it at all, could they not move on and do the same elsewhere if they wanted? The infrastructure and networks could be more of a problem than certification though.

  3. Yes, a. I share your feelings of unease at jess's comment, but think your conclusions are probably correct. An excellent idea, anyway.

  4. Thanks to the owner of this blog. Ive enjoyed reading this topic.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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