Solar Power in Tanzania: Why is it important?
By Margo Brookfield
What do you think of when you turn on a light in your home? Have you ever stopped to think about how fortunate you are to have electricity, the ability to watch TV at any hour of the day, charge your electronics, have a light to read by? Most of us have probably never given it a second thought. But the unfortunate reality is that approximately 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity. That is roughly 17% of the global population. Meanwhile, another 2.9 billion people burn wood or other biomass fuels for light, to cook food and to heat their homes. This results in harmful indoor air pollution that causes millions of deaths each year. Electricity is such a privilege, and one which many people in the world do not have access to.
The downside to not having electricity in Tanzania
In Tanzania, there are many benefits for a family to have electricity in their home, and a lot of negative side effects for the entire family if they do not. In Tanzania, only 15% of the population has access to electricity. That is far, far below the average for the rest of the world. When families in Tanzania do not have electricity, their children are unable to continue their studies after daylight. Since Tanzania is very close to the equator, the sun rises and sets at around 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day, respectively. Without light, families are confined to the hours of daylight to do what they need to do.
Many families utilize kerosene lanterns for light. Though this does allow families to have light after sunset, kerosene is expensive, often costing nearly 1 dollar per liter. For families living in poverty, often on less than 1 dollar per day, this is quite a bit of money out of their daily budget. Kerosene is not only expensive, but the emissions from kerosene lanterns can be very harmful to the health of the family. And if it is not kerosene, it is wood burning stoves or the burning of other fuels for lighting, heating, and cooking that have shown to have incredibly harmful health hazards, causing over 4 million deaths annually from indoor air pollution.
Benefits to Electricity
For a local family the benefits to having solar power in Tanzania are abundant. There are immense health and monetary benefits to electricity, including the elimination of indoor air pollution from kerosene lanterns or burning wood, and money saved from not having to purchase these sources of fuel. When given light, children are able to study after the sun has set and finish their homework for the following day in school. Furthermore, many women make beautiful beaded jewelry and trinkets to be sold in the market. This is a valuable source of their income, and if they cannot work beyond 6 pm this significantly cuts down on their profits and the number of bracelets or necklaces they are able to create and sell.
One of the most important reasons that electricity is important in East Africa is a thing called M-Pesa. M-Pesa is a mobile phone-based money transfer system, where essentially all transactions are done via cell phone. Nearly everyone in Tanzania uses M-Pesa, as you can make deposits, withdrawals, transfers, or even pay for goods and services with a simple text to someone else’s mobile device. Mobile phones are such a crucial part of life in Tanzania, and nearly everyone has one. The problem is, when someone has nowhere to charge their mobile phone then they are unable to access their money, or pay for their food at the market. Often people will walk for miles to a “pay-to-charge” station, which not only is costly but also takes a lot of time out of someone’s day to walk to and from this charging station. With electricity in the home, they can charge their mobile devices and have access to their money at any time.
But how to get electricity to remote Tanzanian villages? Answer: solar power
Solar power is energy harnessed from the sun. It is not only a wonderful source of sustainable and renewable energy, but it is a relatively low maintenance way of lighting your home. As long as the sun is still shining, humans can utilize this resource. This is important because in much of Tanzania, there is not a power grid for families to use. Therefore they need a source of energy that is independent of any power grid, and ideally one that is free of cost. Solar power covers both of these bases. With these solar systems, families are provided with two or three light bulbs (usually one indoor and one outdoor), a charging station for their phones, and the capability to hook up a television if they so desire. The battery for this system can last for 8-10 years if they are well maintained, giving families a phenomenal opportunity and a sustainable solution to their lack of light.
How can you make a difference?: ARCC Tanzania summer trip!
On the ARCC Tanzania: Safari and Solar trip, you could have the opportunity to provide this much needed solar power in Tanzania by helping install systems for families in need. Working with ARCC’s wonderful partners, you have the opportunity to learn more about solar energy. Students learn how to build the solar batteries, complete the wiring for the systems, and actually go install them in the home of someone who has never had electricity before. ARCC’s partner does a day-long workshop with the students to teach them about how solar works, how the batteries work, how to go about constructing and wiring all of these parts, and even has every member of the group calculate how much energy their household uses at home in order for them to gain perspective. Not only will you gain valuable skills in learning how to use power tools, and wire the light bulbs into a home, but you can have the opportunity to change someone’s life forever by giving them light.
And if you are interested in learning more about ARCC’s Tanzania summer trip? Check out the Tanzania: Safari and Solar summer program for more information on how to get involved
ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 30 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.