This blog was published on May 2nd 2023
The sun is vital to life on the planet and, in recent years, it has also become one of the most well-known, economical and efficient renewable energy sources for human use.
Humanity has been trying to harness the power of the sun throughout history, making discoveries that eventually led to the development of silicon photovoltaic cells in the 1950s which converted enough of the sun’s energy to run electrical appliances. Fast forward to the 2020’s and those breakthroughs have led to solar becoming the most portable, flexible and least-cost option for generating electricity in most areas of the world.
It has also become the most efficient energy access option for more than half of the 775 million people who remain unelectrified today. For those of us who enjoy the daily benefits of electricity, living without it is difficult to imagine. In areas where people live in acute energy poverty, when the sun sets, there is no light to do homework, cook or work. You don’t see what’s going on right outside your door. There is no fridge to store food and nowhere to charge your phone (if you have one). You cannot watch the news on TV or listen to the radio to be informed about what’s going on in your country or the world…
Image: Village Power
This lack of power stunts development, economic growth, and opportunities. It affects every aspect of life. Productivity is limited for businesses. Preservation of food is also impossible, as is expanding food production through water pumping or agri-processing. Schools cannot function after dark, children cannot do their homework, and attracting talented, motivated teachers to unelectrified communities can be equally challenging. In rural health centres with no light, it is difficult to perform even basic tasks like suturing wounds after dark; vaccine storage is impossible without cooling solutions.
Off-grid solar industry pioneers recognized the sun’s potential to reach where the grid wasn’t able to and change the lives of the energy-poor. For more than a decade now, the off-grid solar industry has been working in low-income countries, enabling people living in hard-to-reach rural communities to access transformative energy services, initially basic lighting and phone charging, and then also solar home systems that power TVs and radios.
More recently, innovation has led off-grid solar to be able to provide cooling solutions for food preservation and vaccine storage, irrigation to mitigate climate impacts and diversify crops, mills for staple food processing adapted to smallholder farmers’ needs, wifi hubs to improve access to communications, freezers that offer cooling-as-a-service to everyone who needs it, and other solutions for productive use. The industry is also developing technologies – such as solar generators, inverters and efficient appliances – that can help the billion+ people who only have a few hours of grid supply a day, which is also limiting their development and opportunity.