Results tagged “solar energy” from Bob Freling's Solar Blog

The search for clean water in Africa often exacts a heavy toll on the lives of women and girls who are responsible for gathering it on a daily basis. In many African countries it takes up to six hours per day to collect sufficient quantities of water to serve a single family, and much of that time is spent walking; the typical round-trip distance is three miles, although in some instances it can be considerably longer. Physically reaching the water can be hazardous, as loose rocks or roots on the paths or at the edge of water sources can cause women to fall and hurt themselves, or in some cases, even die.

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he most common vessels for transporting water are Jerry Cans, and when filled with water, they weigh 44 pounds. Carrying this load every day can lead to chronic, significant pain and physical deformities in women’s backs, hips, and necks.  Pregnant women are not excused from water collection duties, and the effects of carrying the heavy water often interfere with and complicate childbirth.

What the women and girls find when they get to the water source – a pond, stream, or hole in the ground – is often less than ideal. They often find scores of other women collecting water from the same location, and the lines are so long that the newly arrived must wait for hours to take their turn

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Women cooking with dirty water unintentionally expose their families to chronic diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, worms, parasites, dysentery and hepatitis. The leading cause of death in infants is exposure to contaminated water and water-borne diseases. Yet, the water harvested can be dangerous to everyone: 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal disease, and half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people of all ages sick from diseases caused by drinking unclean water.

Solving these problems has been the focus of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies such as the United Nations who have been involved in ongoing efforts to provide clean, potable water to those living in rural and urban areas in developing countries. While varying in their approaches, these actions are collectively improving the daily lives of women and their families.

One of the more widespread technologies used by aid organizations are hand pumps that access water from wells drilled into the ground. Groups such as The Water Project couple the installation of these pumps with community engagement and education classes designed to teach locals about proper hygiene and sanitation practices. Similarly, charity: water and its partners have brought water pumps to clinics and schools in Latin America, South America, Africa and South East Asia, all of which have dramatically improved the lives of community members. 

Solar energy can also play a leading role in providing access to clean water. In areas where there is no power grid and water cannot be accessed by hand or foot pumps because the water table is too deep, the choices for powering deep well water pumps are usually diesel generators or solar systems. The daily output of most village water supply pumps range from 800 to 13,000 gallons per day (3,000 – 50,000 liters). 50,000 liters is enough to supply 2,500 people with their daily water needs, using UNDP standards of 20 liters per person per day. The effective depth for water pumps to provide this much water is 400 feet (120 meters) or more.

There are very distinct differences between solar and diesel in terms of cost and reliability when it comes to providing reliable and affordable access to water. Diesel powered water pumps are typically characterized by a lower up-front purchase price than a solar system, but they require very high operations and maintenance costs. Diesel gensets typically require regular service – both minor and major – and any required repairs after a breakdown are very costly. In addition, the cost of diesel fuel is prohibitive to the world’s poorest people. Fuel price fluctuates on a daily basis, and over the long-term, it continues to steadily rise.

A solar powered water pumping system usually has a higher up-front purchase price, but it has very low operation and maintenance costs over its lifetime, which is typically 20-25 years. With a solar pump, energy and pumping costs can be accurately calculated for the life of that system, because they have fewer moving parts and require minimal maintenance to keep them running. The only maintenance normally required is cleaning the solar modules every two to four weeks. In addition, they do not require a trained operator on site as do diesel-powered systems.

In the West African country of Benin, many villages in the north suffer from a lack of clean water for drinking and domestic use. To help alleviate this problem, SELF designed and implemented solar power systems to power water pumps for drinking, as well as for irrigation.. Up to 8,000 gallons of water are being pumped every day, benefitting approximately 4,500 people living in the communities of Dunkassa and Bessassi. The laborious and time-consuming task of collecting water has been effectively eliminated, and the number of water related illnesses has dropped.

In addition, water used to irrigate crops during the dry season has resulted in a significant increase in food security and improved nutrition for the communities, who are now able to consume high-value fruits and vegetables year-round. 

collage 2.jpgAccess to clean water means better lives for women and girls and their families. Girls no longer have to help their mothers fetch water, women have more time to work without having to walk to distant water sources or to care for children who are sick from various water-borne illnesses. Women are also able to complete chores faster and have more time to develop marketable skills of their own, or to find work or develop new businesses that will bring in additional income to their households. 

And, because water is so often far away from villages, mothers often keep their daughters home from school to help collect water or to care for their younger siblings while they go off to collect it themselves. Giving women access to clean water in the village frees young girls to go to school more often and for longer periods of time.

Life in Africa is incredibly hard for women. Providing them with access to clean water through the use of solar energy means giving them the chance to improve their health, educate their children, and develop new enterprises to lift their families out of poverty.                                                            

Stand With Haiti

As the world mobilizes to respond to the crisis in Haiti, our partner, Partners In Health (PIH), is on the ground making arrangements to set up a field hospital. SELF is diverting 13 kW of solar panels to the temporary facility to provide electricity for critical lighting and emergency medical treatment. However, much more help is needed.

PIH headquarters reports that:

Over the past 18 hours, PIH staff in Boston and Haiti have been working to collect as much information as possible about the conditions on the ground, the relief efforts taking shape, and all relevant logistics issues in order to respond efficiently and effectively to the most urgent needs in the field. At the moment, PIH’s Chief Medical Officer is on her way to Haiti, where she will meet with [their] leadership and head physicians, who are already working to ensure PIH’s coordinated relief efforts leveraging the skills of more than 120 doctors and nearly 500 nurses and nursing assistants who work at [PIH’s] sites.

If you wish to contribute to the relief effort in Haiti, we encourage you to support PIH’s work on the ground for immediate assistance to the survivors.

Donate to PIH >>

Paul Farmer and Bob in Haiti

While now is the time to support disaster relief, SELF will continue to work with PIH and the people of Haiti in the reconstruction and continuing economic development of their communities.

In the March/April 2001 edition of Foreign Affairs, Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, along with co-authors Thomas Craig and Stuart Hart, referenced SELF as a good example of an organization using "disruptive technology" to advance economic development for the poorest of the poor. 

In his recent article, "The Need for New Value Networks", published in eGov monitor, the online platform of the UK-based Policy Dialogue International, Christensen says current efforts to shift to more efficient, lower-carbon energy sources are based on a misguided approach.

"History has shown that cramming new technologies into existing value networks rarely succeeds", says Christensen at the outset of the article. To illustrate his point, he describes how the leading consumer electronic companies in the fifties (such as Maganov, Zenith and RCA) were hesitant to replace their vacuum-tube based radios and televisions with transistor-based models because the latter offered lower fidelity and more static.

Then Sony came along, explains Christiansen, and figured out a way to market its low-priced, low-quality products by selling transistor radios to "people who didn’t already have a radio (primarily young adults) for listening in a new context (away from home, but out of the car) through a channel that the incumbent companies didn’t use (department stores)." The quality of its transistor radios gradually improved over time, and Sony evolved into one of the world’s most successful consumer electronic companies. Christensen adds that "most of Sony’s vacuum tube-based competitors never successfully made the switch to transistors. They are all gone now."

Christiansen then goes on to draw a parallel between the short-sightedness of the vacuum tube-based electronics companies of yesterday and the misguided approach at innovation that, in his opinion, is prevalent among today’s incumbent energy and utility companies.

As long as fossil fuels represent the cheapest and most convenient way to power our homes and cars, argues Christiansen, "making alternative energy sources cost-effective and plug-compatible in this system is a very, very difficult challenge."

"But what about in the developing world?", asks Christiansen towards the end of his article in eGov monitor. "What about applications where the attributes of alternative energy are valuable and unique when compared to traditional fuels?" "Spending our time and effort, Christiansen concludes, on identifying those applications where the virtues of alternative energy resources are most valued relative to the traditional options will likely do more to accelerate the pace of innovation in the energy sector than government subsidy or tax credit."

In parts of the world that have been never had access to electricity, it’s amazing what a difference a few watts of energy can make. For example, installing a 50 watt solar panel on the roof of a thatched hut will generate enough power to run a few lights, a radio, and a few small appliances for 4-5 hours each evening. That might not sound like much to us, but rest assured, it’s totally transformative for a rural family that has previously been forced to retreat each evening after the sun goes down into a home lit dimly, if at all, by candles or smoky kerosene lamps.

Or take healthcare. A few hundred watts’ worth of solar panels installed on a rural clinic is enough to power a few lights and small vaccine refrigerator. Immunization programs often breakdown in rural areas without power because there’s no way to store vaccines, which must be kept between 0 and 8°C.

Or consider water. A submersible pump, powered by a 2 kilowatt (that’s 2000 watts) solar array, can supply a village of 3000 people with their daily water requirements. Imagine that -- 2000 watts and you’ve got clean water for an entire village! (By way of comparison, some hair dryers use more than a 1000 watts of power.)

The list goes on and on. Whether you’re talking about health, education, or economic development, a tiny (by our standards) investment of energy "capital" in an unelectrified community will yield enormous dividends to that community, dividends that will continue to pay off for decades to come.

It is ironic that some of the poorest, most isolated places on earth have leapfrogged the entire fossil fuel age and traditional telecom infrastructure by plugging directly into solar power and wireless communication networks.

As we forge ahead with new breakthroughs in thin-film solar cells, LED lighting, advanced batteries, next-generation satellites, and long-range WiFi networking solutions, I, for one, hope that these new technologies will continue to have the greatest impact in the developing world.

The third of humanity who are still off-grid and off-line are waiting desperately to be electrified and to be connected. Perhaps the first company to figure out a way of delivering sustainable power and communications to these two billion people will become the next Sony...of the energy world!