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Sustainable ways to light up homes in Kenya and reduce child deaths

The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for every household across the world to have access to a modern energy supply by 2030.

This is one of three goals set out by the UN’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All initiative’ (www.sustainableenergyforall.org). Currently, nearly two-fifths of the world’s population rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste to cook their food. Kerosene is also used widely in rural areas. Such fuel sources produce toxic smoke which can cause lung disease. Replacing outdated cooking and lighting methods with modern energy services would prevent around 800,000 child deaths annually.

The UN initiative also wants the renewable portion of the world’s energy (currently constituting 15% of the global energy mix) to double, in order to avert the most serious affects of climate change. UN officials want to see over 40 billion dollars invested in sustainable energy each year, compared with around 9 billion dollars at the moment. However, the extra money is unlikely to come from governments and the UN is hoping the private sector will step in. Already, private companies have announced a number of projects, including one which will provide 5 million people on low incomes with solar lamps and portable solar kits.

A number of non-government organisations (NGOs) are already leading the way to introduce solar power into developing countries. In Kenya, for example, one such NGO is Sunny Money, which believes in business-based solutions rather than charity or hand-outs. Speaking to a BBC World Service reporter, the managing director said the challenge is to help local people “start up their own businesses to sell solar products”. This involves finding a successful business model for developing countries, where people typically earn just a few dollars each day. But seeing the high take-up of mobile phones in Kenya, the NGO saw that where technology products are made affordable, locals will buy them.

Other organisations, such as the company Azuri Technologies based in the UK, are already meeting this challenge. Seeing how most families in Africa cannot afford to spend 50 or 60 dollars on a solar power system for their homes, the company sells a solar panel with battery, two lights and a port for mobile phones for between 5 and 10 dollars. The household then buys a scratch card each week for around a dollar, which acts as a pay-as-you-go method for reimbursing the company for the solar system. Speaking to the BBC, a company spokesperson said “in Kenya, we found customers were paying 1 dollar a week for the scratch cards, but they were saving 2 dollars a week on...kerosene and mobile-phone charging”. With the opportunity to save money from day one, this solution provides families with low-cost sustainable energy and this is exactly the kind of project the UN wants to see more of in the future. 

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