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Solar Energy Foundation, Ethiopia

Solar scheme sets communities alight

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Samson Tsegaye, Solar Energy Foundation, Ethiopia

In rural and semi-urban Ethiopia lighting in homes is poor. Dim and unhealthy kerosene lamps and candles are common. The Solar Energy Foundation, a German NGO working in the country, decided on a solar solution. Small photovoltaic home systems with rechargeable batteries could provide regular lighting and even power radios and televisions.

SEF set up a demonstration in a village outside the town of Rema. The town had been offered a diesel generator but SEF convinced them of the benefits, human and financial, of solar power. A programme of installation and maintenance was set up. Components were imported but assembled locally. Local people were trained in installation and maintenance at a dedicated International Solar School. Fee collectors were also trained and employed to collect maintenance payments. Local participation was critical with village committees responsible for managing payments.

At first the systems were free. However, the aim is self-sufficiency. A loan fund was set up to help purchasers, with monthly payments being similar to the money saved on kerosene and other fuel. In total 2100 systems have been installed in Rema and nearby areas with 650 tonnes/year of CO2 saved. Home life is much improved with stronger and more reliable lighting helping with both education and leisure. And the scheme has provided work for both men and women, as technicians and fee collectors.

Potential is huge. SEF estimates 10 million of Ethiopia’s 13 million households could afford the systems. Four more training schools have been set up. The people of Rema and its villages don’t need convincing any longer.