SolarAid works to create a solar Africa

Yesterday, we featured a piece on economist Jeffrey Sachs, who supports the concept of using solar power to combat poverty in developing nations. Today, we look at an organization that is doing just that.

SolarAid is a non-profit based in London that combines market forces and international aid to tackle two of the world’s most important problems: global poverty and climate change.

Cate Blachett introduces the group.

SolarAid was started in 2006 by Jeremy Leggett, a man whose bifurcated career path makes his founding of the group seem inevitable. Leggett started out working in the oil industry, a business, shall we say, not typically known for its environmental record. (At least, not in any positive sense.)

In the late 1980s Leggett became convinced that human induced climate change would reach a crisis point unless humanity switched from fossil fuels to non-polluting renewables. So the oilman made one of those leaps so common in film and all too rare in life — he left the oil industry and become chief scientist for the group Greenpeace.

Poor land makes poor people; poor people make poor land

SolarAid describes its strategy to combat the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental decline in simple terms:

SolarAid aims to enable the world’s poorest people to have clean, renewable power. Solar power leads to better education, health, safety and income by allowing poor communities to cook, pump water, run fridges, store vaccines, light homes, schools, clinics and businesses, power computers and homes, farm more effectively, and much more.

The organization funds microsolar projects mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, like the one described by Blanchett.

SolarAid funds and trains individuals in small communities to set up microbusinesses involving solar power. One common project is converting kerosene lamps into solar lanterns, LEDs charged by solar power.

The group also has larger “macrosolar” projects, such as installing rooftop solar generating systems on schools, health clinics and community centers.

The beauty and promise of SolarAid’s work is that it helps people who have no electrical power (or political power for that matter), move directly to an abundant renewable energy source without the toxic effects of passing first through a petroleum-based system, as we have in the West (a system that is still pervasive in “developed” countries).

That’s also part of the beauty of technological change. When based on a sustainable model, new technologies allow people and whole nations to leapfrog over inefficient, polluting and hazardous older forms of industrialized activity.

SolarAid plans to bring solar power to millions of people throughout Africa. Now that’s the kind of “thousand points of light” program that can change a continent and help form a better world.

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