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Lighting One House at a Time

September 27, 2013

The shortage of power leaves a good part of Africa dark at night.

Two-thirds of people living in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity.  Eight-five percent living in a rural environment are without.  The International Energy Agency projects that it will cost $300 billion to provide electricity for everyone in the region by 2030.  There are a lot of new  and planned investments in the infrastructure.  The Chinese have invested billions in the continent the past few years and have taken the lead with large investments in coal, hydro and solar power.  The US has committed $7 billion over the next five years and of course, private industry is also engaged.

In Uganda, fewer than one in ten people have access to electricity.  Oil was recently discovered in the country, but there are no refineries and the pipeline network is not developed, so oil is imported.  Petroleum generates roughly one-third of Uganda’s electricity and hydro and biomass are sources for the rest.  Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world.  The United Nations reports that thirty-eight percent of the population survives on $1.25 or less per day.

In places like this, people rely on kerosene to fuel their lamps and stoves.  There are clear costs, however.  Not only is kerosene a fire danger, it is also a severe health risk.  The World Health Organization says that exposure to the smoke from burning solid fuels indoors for daily life is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.  In 2002, nearly four hundred million people died in sub-Saharan Africa due to disease from inhaling indoor smoke.  Worldwide, the figure was 1.5 million.


You can learn more about how to be part of Solar Sister at their website.

While power plants, electricity grids and petroleum facilities are being built in Uganda, the government claims that it will also work to achieve the goals of the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative – access, more renewable energy and increased energy efficiency.  Corruption will no doubt have its impact on any of these efforts – business and government are both culpable (intertwined).  The country is considered one of the most corrupt in the world.

There are a number of solar energy initiatives in the country.  Some are commercial or utility-scale and others are community-based.  Grass roots even.  Here’s one that sounds pretty good – Solar Sister.  This is a group that helps women in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan develop small businesses.  The women sell solar-powered phone chargers and solar-powered lamps in their communities.  The phone chargers are used by the women’s customers to charge their own phones and also to generate income by selling the energy to neighbors for their phones.  The lamps are used to replace the kerosene lamps and other inefficient light sources, such as wood.

The company provides the women with start-up kits, including inventory.  They also provide some working capital, marketing support and education about running their businesses.  The women form their own distribution networks in an Avon-like fashion and then they get after it – four hundred women have sold more than fifty thousand lamps and chargers!


Happy Solar Sisters. See the enthusiasm and gratitude on Solar Sister FB page.

These businesses not only give the women income and cut the dangerous use of kerosene, but also bring many social values as well.  Solar Sister calculates $46 in economic benefits for the community for each dollar that they invest in the women’s businesses.  It seems that the women are particularly pleased that they have money for their children’s education and lights for them to read and study at night.  What a difference that can make to a family and of course to a child’s life.

Solar Sister calls their work a Social Enterprise.  Their venture is praiseworthy and it is a thrill to see it in action – Solar Sisters lighting one house at a time.

One Comment
  1. OK, we can’t figure out how to reblog, meanwhile we tweeted it @louisamayalcatt, we’ll keep trying to reblog, but right now have to get back to work xo, LMA


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