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Solar rubbish for rural people

Currently, organizations and enterprises are outbidding one another with their announcements of how many people they will supply with light. Talk is of hundreds of thousands or even a million. These success stories announced at conferences in reality often turn out to be no more than hot air.

Most “success stories” are based on the use of small solar lamps produced at a cost of less than fifteen US dollars. What people in the rural regions of Asia and Africa get for this is a dim LED lamp with a battery that rarely has a lifetime of more than a year. The cheap plastic housing lasts no longer and is thrown away together with the battery. Repairs or exchanges are intended as little as recycling. More disturbing than the ecological damage caused by this solar trash is the question: How are users meant to experience solar energy as an energy source to be taken seriously, one that fosters their economic development? The message given here is: Solar energy is for the poor.
The success is in terms of marketing. These users are henceforth cited in the success statistics of international conferences, and carbon dioxide certificates are sold for their old kerosene lamps. Regrettably, ever more large foundations and organizations are giving in to the temptation of such illusory declarations of success.
A different scenario is also possible: More and more people in developing countries have the possibility to make comparisons and know what quality is.  And they are willing to pay for it—should they even be offered such solar products. And if a stable, durable solar product is, in the end, too expensive, then there are often MFIs available, allowing for installment payments.
Sustainability is costly, but it is the only way to lead people in rural regions of Asia and Africa out of poverty on a permanent basis. These people should not be misused by being sold solar rubbish as technology of the future.  (hs) 

Harald Schützeichel is the founder and chair of the Stiftung Solarenergie – Solar Energy Foundation, www.stiftung-solarenergie.org.

Source:  sun-connect 2 | March 2010 (p. 1)


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