How Solar Can Benefit Emerging Economies

More homeowners and commercial enterprises are realizing solar energy is no longer just an alternative to the status-quo but the power of the future—and we at Modernize agree. For developing nations, the use of renewable energy is about creating an energy democracy. By taking advantage of the adaptability, low cost, and portability of solar systems, emerging nations across the globe can access agricultural innovations, health care, education, and clean water.

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Agricultural Advantages

Nearly all of the almost two billion people around the world without electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa, subsisting on livestock and often meager crops. Grid expansion concerns have prevented any realistic implementation of electric fencing or irrigation systems, but their solar-powered counterparts now offer a solution to combating droughts and crop- and livestock-destroying pests. Once agricultural products have been harvested, solar power can be used to dehydration and refrigeration it in order to avoid waste and reduce health concerns associated with unsound food products. Solar-powered ovens allow cooking without the need for carbon-producing fuels, which is especially important for poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

Access to Health Care

Many people who live in emerging economies lack even basic health care, for a variety of reasons—even regions assisted by nonprofit organizations struggle with a lack of resources to power vital equipment. The World Health Organization (WHO) asserts only one in four clinics in sub-Saharan Africa is equipped with electricity, and those were mostly unreliable systems due to grid outages and political conflict. Across Haiti, clinics and labs are largely dependent on dangerous and natural resource-draining diesel generators. Consistent power sources are essential to keeping medical equipment sterilized and medications and vaccines stored properly. In the neediest areas, solar energy would provide care as fundamental as proper lighting for treatment. Since 2009, We Care Solar has provided “solar suitcases” to midwives and healthcare officials in remote regions across the globe with enough solar-powered equipment, including medical-grade lighting and blood bank refrigeration, to perform even a Caesarean birth.

Closing the Gap

Even the most dedicated teacher can’t overcome all obstacles. Areas with emerging formal educational systems are often dependent on outdated textbooks, and even basic supplies like pencils and paper get expensive—and these traditional tools aren’t the greenest choice. Organizations like One Laptop per Child (OLPC) have long been providing educational technology to underprivileged areas to reduce waste and ensure students are able to access up-to-date information. But laptops and tablets require charging, and areas without access to electricity are denied the very access many organizations hoped to provide. Renewable solar electricity allows people living in remote or disadvantaged regions to power up in a digital world and engage in today’s job and educational markets. Microfinancing has the potential to help entrepreneurs in developing economies, but without access to communications technology, this point is moot. Solar WiFi is even becoming available, thanks to a nonprofit called GreenWiFi.

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Clean Water

Almost nine hundred million people in the world live without access to clean water. Campaigns to provide bottled water have either been riddled with scandal, greed, inefficiency, or a combination of the three. Water collection often falls to women, who spend hours gathering water that isn’t even clean. Simply boiling water doesn’t destroy dangerous particles of debris and requires a dependable heat source. Although solar disinfection was developed in the 1980s, it was some time before reliable, larger-scale systems became available for personal and commercial use. But the Watly machine—currently being tested in Ghana in sub-Saharan Africa, where thirty-nine percent of people live without clean water—may be just what the world has needed. The system captures solar energy through photovoltaic panels, which then powers an intensive water filtration system, providing nearly fifteen hundred gallons per day, in addition to providing a charging station for electronics and WiFi within a half-mile radius. In addition to providing basic needs, the company predicts that just the process of installation of the machine across Africa alone could create over fifty thousand jobs.

The ball is rolling to increase renewable energy sources for developing nations, and with careful implementation and local ownership, the economies of these regions will benefit as much as its individual citizens.

Guest article by Kelley Walters