Solar As A Lifeline: Victims Facing Years off the Grid

We all mourn the loss of life in Haiti. The numbers are staggering. Possibly as many as 200,000 people died in the earthquake.  And for the roughly 2 million who remain homeless, the challenges are just beginning. Rebuilding will take many years—and that is just to restore Haiti to the impoverished mess that it was before the earthquake.  As assistance pours in, many opportunities arise to help people with basic needs by going solar. For those living without electricity in Haiti and elsewhere, solar can be a lifeline.

Look at the broad range of solar products available on the market today, or peruse our site. Solar freezers and fridges provide refrigeration for food. Solar lights can light up the streets. Aid workers who need to plug in their computers can use portable solar module. Solar water pumps can filter the water to make it drinkable. Solar ovens can cook the food. Why use kerosene when you have solar.  And even a low cost passive solar water heater can provide hot water.

Solar as a solution in developing areas is not a new idea—just  that when a disaster as big as the Haiti earthquake occurs, it crystallizes the benefits of solar. Government officials from these countries are beginning to take notice. They are less interested in reducing their carbon footprint as they are in getting basic necessities to their citizens.

We were pleased to host a representative from the World Bank earlier this month. Some World Bank visitors coming to Washington, DC want to take back to their home countries various solar products because local sourcing of many of the products that SolarTown carries is not a possibility. If they can pack up a solar module and take it on the plane back to their home countries, then that is all for the good. We hope to see more of these officials in our offices and explain to them the benefits of solar.

The market for solar in these developing countries is immense. Remember that as many as 2 billion people live in a world without electricity. If you have seen a glimpse of the earth from outer space showing where the lights are, Europe is lit up—and most of Africa is dark. Take a look at this photo showing a map of the world at night. Those people who live in the dark are utterly cut off from the rest of us. Access to electricity is a luxury that few in the developing world can afford.

Earth at Night

Earth at Night

A recent article in the New York Times cites statistics from the Alliance for Rural Electrification in Brussels that 44 percent of the population of the developing world lacks access to electricity. Solar panels can light up a city without the major capital costs required to build infrastructure for utilities.

Views of our world from outerspace show the disparities between the haves and the have-nots, but if you want to see what this means at a local level, you will have to visit a village in Sub-Saharan Africa–or visit Mongolia, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. 

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then please take a look at this photo taken by one of SolarTown’s friends who was recently in Mongolia. The solar panel gracing this Mongolian ger can connect this family with the outer world. The panel on the ger is a window through which this family can connect to modern conveniences that we in the developed world take for granted. 

Solar Panel on a Ger in Mongolia. Courtesy of Halshka Graczyk.

Solar Panel on a Ger in Mongolia. Courtesy of Halshka Graczyk.

Solar energy is just beginning to gain traction as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.  For some solar energy users, solar is an economic decision. They can actually reduce their utility costs by adopting solar energy. Or they can bring electricity to remote areas such as mountain cabins without the cost of hooking up to the grid.
For others, solar is a good way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. They are consciously trying to reduce the harm that we are causing to the environment.
And still for others, solar is a lifeline.

For solar projects in developing countries, see the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF).

For donations to Haiti, see Partners In Health.

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