As we drove into rural Ghana, our jeep bounced and rocked over deep ruts in the dusty roads. We passed many huts that still had only thatched roofs for protection from the elements. Hand pumps, the only local water source, were few and far between. The infrastructure in rural Africa may be behind that of the western world, but now the people of Ghana have the opportunity to catch up to developed countries when it comes to one basic need: electricity.
Just as when rural African leaped over low-tech landlines and skipped right to cell phones, there’s an opportunity now to bypass utility poles in favor of off-grid solar electricity. Ghana has almost 2400 hours of sunshine a year, and yet 9 million people are still without light in those rural areas.
And therein lies the opportunity. I have the privilege of working for Sunflare, an international solar company that was delighted to partner with The Hunger Project, a worldwide NGO, to bring off-grid electricity to areas that they call “epicenters.” Epicenters are central hubs where communities work together as they build self-reliance. Local residents can take classes on everything from improving agriculture to learning how to read. They can store and sell goods. And the epicenter provides a central location for governments and other partners to provide and distribute services including health care professionals, and teachers for primary schools, and resources like medicine and bed nets.
On August 1st, when we turned off the road and drove through the villages toward an epicenter, we found a big contrast to what we’d seen earlier in our journey. The houses are brick with corrugated roofs. Water pumps are central, and the farms are thriving. Despite this, there is little to no electricity. The epicenter leaders greeted us with with wide smiles.
“If you could share your success
in building self-reliance with other
people, what would you say?”
Throughout the day we worked together to install Sunflare SUN2 solar panels at the first of five epicenters where Sunflare will provide solar panels. Together, the five epicenters provide services reaching 50,000 people. For most, this will be the first time they have the benefits of any electricity at all.
Thanks to this solar power, women can now go to the epicenter to deliver their babies. This helps save the lives of women in childbirth in a place where the maternal mortality rate is 450 deaths per 100,000 live births. By comparison, in the US there are 18 deaths per live birth. Solar power also means that many more infant lives will be saved. The Infant mortality rate in Ghana is 44 deaths per 1000 live births—4 times higher than the US.
Sunflare Sunflare SUN2 solar panels also will run a refrigerator to cool vaccines that can prevent tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles. The lights now fill the library where primary school children get their first taste of education and adults improve their literacy skills long after the sun has set on their farms. And there’s still enough juice to power a computer and printer in the office and bank at the epicenter, where leaders work managing microfinance loans for the community.
Sunflare Capture4 technology is best suited for these kind of applications because it is light, thin, flexible, affordable and efficient. On top of that, they can be installed using only double-stick tape. No need to mount heavy, breakable panels in big aluminum frames. That means that Sunflare panels can be installed virtually anywhere—even in the middle of Africa.
Sunflare and The Hunger Project are taking this project one step further. Sunflare is teaching leaders to install and maintain the solar technology. Ultimately, Sunflare and a handful of donors will provide seed capital to create small solar packages so people in rural Africa can generate household income by running small solar businesses. In the near future, each hut can have reliable, affordable electricity—a big step forward on the path to self-reliance.
Before we climbed in the jeep to head back to our own homes, we asked The Hunger Project village partners, “If you could share your success in building self-reliance with other people, what would you say?” One woman said, “Please tell everyone to work hard, educate their children, and start with what they have and who they are now—no matter how small your resources, no matter who you feel you are today. You will be surprised at how it all grows.” Several men and women nodded agreement. Another woman told me, “We have a saying: ‘I build the road, and the road builds me.’”
Together, Sunflare and The Hunger Project are building new roads and new lives.