Solar Empowered

Solar Empowered

Barfeoot College engineers in Mauritania

As many as 587 million Africans live without electricity. For this population, the burning of biomass remains a critical source of fuel and light, yet contributes to key problems such as deforestation, respiratory disease, and significant carbon emissions. Profit-driven and socially-minded entrepreneurs alike have seized Africa’s green energy market, and are seeking to provide off the grid communities with clean, renewable energy.

Whether you’re considering the rising number of Chinese solar panel exports to Africa, the many non-profits operating on the continent whose missions include providing LED lights to energy-poor communities, or the handful of hi-tech European companies now operating state of the art solar factories in the far flung reaches of Algeria or Senegal, one thing is clear: solar energy is making its mark on the African landscape.

One of the most interesting initiatives I’ve heard of is the Barefoot College, which trains women solar engineers to install and maintain solar panels in their communities. Founded in India, the organization now invites groups of women from as far afield as Africa and the Middle East to its Indian headquarters to learn the ins and outs of solar technology. After a six month training program, the women return to their villages ready to install and operate the systems.

According to the organization’s founder Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, the Barefoot College targets older women because “Grandmothers have a vested interest in the village and have no desire to leave. Give a youth a piece of paper and he is off to the city to find a better job.” Heeding Africa’s call for renewable energy initiatives, the organization now trains women from 21 countries across Africa, and by the end of 2010 had trained over 100 semi-literate and illiterate African women.

Photo courtesy of Barefoot College of Tilonia