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SolarAid: Bringing Sustainable Energy to the Developing World

Aug 15, 2008
The growing concern over global warming and climate change is leading the world's most powerful governments into extensive research on the possibilities of sustainable and renewable energy.

Construction has already begun on 'Solar Tres', a solar thermal power tower in Spain that could generate 15MW of heat annually, and there are also proposed plans for the building of a solar farm collective in the Sahara desert. This enterprise could power countries all over the E.U.

But in the more strained economies of the developing world, large scale projects like these are harder to come by; without the relative stability of the developed nations, sustainable and renewable energy - which can still be easily viewed as a long term issue - are secondary to droughts, famine and poverty.

With that in mind, 'SolarAid' aims to provide sustainable, clean energy sources to the world's poorest countries and communities.

The charity officially began in 2006, but has its routes in 'Solarcentury', a body dedicated to the idea that business could combat climate change and global warming. It was founded by Dr. Jeremy Legget, former Greenpeace Head Scientist.

In Solarcentury's original constitution was the promise that the first time it grossed more than 5% net profit, it would set up an independent charity to help provide solar power to developing countries.

SolarAid was born out of that constitutional promise. Dr. Legget remains Chairman of the charity, and actress Cate Blantchett is it's patron.

The official SolarAid website summarises their cause:

"SolarAid aims to enable the world's poorest people to have clean, renewable power. Solar power leads to better education, health, safety and income by allowing poor communities to cook, pump water, run fridges, store vaccines, light homes, schools, clinics and businesses, power computers and homes, farm more effectively, and much more.

SolarAid carries out DIY solar projects - training local communities how to build small scale solar devices such as solar powered radios and lanterns - and installs small solar systems for community centres, medical clinics, schools and other such communal infrastructure."

Their strategy, then, is to give the poorest places the means to develop sustainable projects. But they are also committed to providing the education that can enable such areas to develop projects themselves.

SolarAid outlines their policy more specifically in six particular steps:

"1) Focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest. This will allow us to benefit from synergies as we develop a programme of activity that is geographically focused.

2) Focus mainly on the rural poor, who are the most impoverished and marginalised from energy networks, although we will work with the urban poor if their access to the grid is limited or non-existent.

3) Build a solid programme of DIY solar and installations before moving on to disaster relief and advocacy.

4) Work through international NGOs and local partner organizations rather than implementing directly. We will work with organizations that take a community-involvement approach to development.

5) Focus on programme sustainability through a microbusiness approach that encourages beneficiaries to develop their own solar or solar-powered businesses; sustainable technologies; and a gender approach.

6) Develop from the outset a solid system for monitoring and evaluation."

As climate change and global warming becomes an increasingly politicised agenda, then, charities like SolarAid are ensuring that - in an issue that affects us all - the world's developing nation's are not left behind.

Perhaps more will follow suit.
About the Author
Chris Woolfrey is the solar power expert at EcoSwitch The environmental social network.
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