Product Power: Solar Technology Eradicates Poverty in Developing Countries

It’s the end of Climate Week in New York City. Over 100 World Leaders were in the city for the UN Secretary-General’s Summit on Climate Change, considered the ‘biggest challenge in human history’. A series of events were held including the “Panel Discussion: Solar in the Developing World” which inspired me to share some notes on how solar technology products are transforming lives in developing countries.

Solar Technology

Photovoltaics is the field of technology that changes solar energy into electricity. Its use has become increasingly popular due to the resource concerns around the scarcity of fossil fuels. Solar technology is:

  1. Sustainable but expensive and the supply is intermittent
  2. Modular – can power calculators to farms
  3. Rapidly deployed
  4. Distributed – anyone who has access to the sun can have electricity
  5. Localised – used where needed, unlike fossil fuels that need to be transported to the destination of use


*High-powered LED with mobile phone charger, solar-powered TV (SunTransfer)

Empowerment

It is estimated by the panelists that 2 billion people still don’t have access to electricity, living their entire evenings by candle light or kerosene lamps, which are irritating to the eyes, environmentally unfriendly and fire hazardous. Although regarded as an infrastructure issue and the government’s responsibility, a few entrepreneurs and innovators have come together to offer light to underserved regions – recognizing it as a basic need for survival.

What these organizations found included:

  1. Children were unable to complete their homework in the evenings
  2. Communications via television and radio were restricted
  3. Medical clinics operated in the dark and were unable to properly store medicine
  4. Men and women who worked in the evenings at home or in the field worked in the dark

Through microfinance and the development and of solar panels and solar-powered devices, these products have:

  1. Improved community health
  2. – A community in Nicaragua used solar power for a water pump, decreasing cholera in their town and has been noticed to have the least health issues and clinic visits in the region
    – Midwives were able to facilitate safer child birth in the evenings
    – Medical clinics were able to supply power to fridges to store vaccines

  3. Increased access to communications
  4. Increased productivity of agriculture workers, increasing their income
  5. – In India, women harvested roses between midnight and 6AM, but with solar-powered head lamps they were able to be relieved of carrying kerosene lamps and use both hands to collect roses

  6. Increased work-place safety
  7. – Fishermen were able to maintain a light source out at sea when a wave comes over

  8. Empowered displaced and abused women
  9. – In Bangladesh women can seek micro-financing and training to install solar-panels to homes as a trade profession, enabling them to contribute to the family income

  10. Provided cost-savings
  11. – In Vietnam, households are investing in the installation of their own solar-panels as an alternative energy source to save money on electricity bills

Now that’s Product Power.

One of the microfinance companies on the discussion panel, Arc Finance, stated that they would be interested in financing solar product ideas that met these requirements for distribution in developing countries:

  1. Durable
  2. Replicable
  3. Affordable, and
  4. Transportable

Climate Week NYC precedes the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December this year where it is hoped a global agreement to combat climate change will be achieved, and the approval and ratification of a new agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

*Introducing Product Power a new blog series about how products can change the world for good.