It’s International Day of Light, yet more than 700 million people still live in the dark

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This blog was published on May 16th 2023

We are 7 years away from 2030, the timeline set by the United Nations General Assembly to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and more than 700 million people still live in the dark. Progress is happening, just not at the right rate to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” (SDG7).

Energy is vital for human development and opportunity, enabling new businesses, minimizing food waste, ensuring vaccine storage, increasing agricultural yield as well as resilience to climate events, among other positive outcomes. Off-grid solar energy is a key component of the universal energy access puzzle because it is the fastest, most affordable option to reach most of the rural homes currently unelectrified, where expanding the grid is a costly and slow endeavour.

Image: d.light

In the past decade, the off-grid solar industry has proven its capability to expand access to energy through low-income hard-to-reach rural communities with reliable, clean and affordable products. It’s important to note though that a percentage of the energy-poor struggles to afford even the most basic energy products. For years now, the industry has been working with the PAYGo model that has enabled millions to afford energy products they would not have been able to pay for in cash. Subsidies are needed to reach millions more people who live in conflict-ridden countries. Higher investment into the industry is also necessary to continue expanding its reach and sustainability.

We are working to achieve all of these goals, to expand productive use solutions like solar refrigeration and irrigation, access to information through TVs, radios and phones powered by the sun and innovative efficient appliances that dramatically improve the lives of their buyers and can give them additional opportunities to make a living.

However, there is also huge power in simply having light in the dark.

If you are in the dark when the sun sets, the hours that can be used in a day can be very limited. Children struggle to do their homework when days are short and it’s dark when they return from school, a seamstress will not see enough to create garments, a restaurant cannot serve its customers, a rural health centre will have to close or work in very bad conditions.

In some off-the-grid locations, people rely on kerosene lamps to get some light at night. Their carbon emissions are not just harmful to the environment but also to the respiratory system. This was the inspiration for Habiba Ali to found Sosai Renewable Energies Company in 2010: “I didn’t know that about two hours of breathing in the fumes from an open fire or kerosene is equivalent to smoking one pack of cigarettes, I didn’t know. It shocked me and made me think of how many packs of cigarettes my family had smoked through the years working in our roadside restaurant.”

Image: SolarAid

Off-grid solar is a clean, affordable, reliable way to access lighting in these communities and it changes lives. Hamza, a 4th grade student in Pakistan, only had access to light through a kerosene lamp until his father bought a solar lamp through Harness Energy so he could study at night: “Because of the dim light, I had to keep my book right in front of it to read properly. Also, the smell of kerosene burning was very bad.” Now he has his solar lamp on the shelf and is able to do his homework comfortably.

Mrs Penina Ndinda Mutuku, a d.light customer from Kenya explains the additional advantages of switching from kerosene to solar: “Before, I could move the kerosene lamp from one place to another looking for something, but now I’m good, very clear. It has good light. I thank God; it has cut the cost of fuel.

Image: SolarWorks!

Germano bought a solar home system through PAYGo with Spark and he explains his increased productive time: “I use the lights at night for about 4 hours and the radio for 6 hours throughout the evening. In my area, it is rare to find houses that have electricity, so it is a privilege that we can afford electricity. I am soon looking forward to buying a larger system for my house and business.

Before she had a portable solar lantern, Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray and her husband were getting up throughout the night to check on the cows because, despite the thorny brush that serves as a fence around the cows, hyenas were getting in and killing cows. They discovered that when they hung a lamp up on the tree near the cows, the hyenas stayed away. This has been a great solution and they no longer have to get up several times through the night.

Image: Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray

Mbanjineza, a 38-year-old farmer from Rwanda explains how having lights has enabled them to be able to do their chores: “There were days when we would work late, and as a result, fail to do some home chores simply because it was too dark to do anything else. But now that we have Bboxx solar power, even when we work late, we are able to get home and do other chores like cooking and attending to my livestock. Because of the light, I am able to feed my goats.

A midwife in Salone Health Clinic in Mozambique electrified thanks to SolarWorks! explains the effect of having light in the clinic: “The first birth in that facility after electrification was 100% successful and I worked without holding a torch in my mouth while helping mothers. It was possible to stitch the parturient during the postpartum period. Before that, during most night deliveries it wasn’t possible to do decent stitching, forcing the mothers to wait until the next day with haemorrhages. The mothers went to the health care just to see the good news, they were so grateful and happy.

We know and have proven the off-grid solar industry can provide millions of people life-changing first-time access to energy through lighting. It’s a first step on the clean energy staircase, and an important one that opens a door to opportunity, to higher levels of clean energy access and to productive use of energy. Help us achieve it by endorsing our Power 1 Billion Lives Compact.

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