Solar power as a renewable energy is gaining more and more momentum every day. While here in the United States we normally think of either small self-contained residential and business installations or large utility supplied systems, there is a great potential for solar power electricity in developing countries.
It boggles the mind to realize that nearly 44 percent of the developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have no access to electricity and only 1 percent of the world's solar panel production has been installed in such countries. This could change considerably within the next ten years.
The main issue for bringing solar power to these areas is of course how to pay for it. Around 2 billion people live in rural areas with no electricity. Even though most of these folks are poor, about 40 percent of them are spending $5 to $10 per month for lighting, mainly through kerosene burning lamps. Individual solar installations could be less expensive than building up the infrastructure for conventional power lines, especially in areas where buildings are far apart. While the cost of equipment is reasonable, it is the construction, installation and on going maintenance infrastructure that is usually the most challenging.
There are many alternative systems becoming available but two have caught my attention recently.
The first is very simple and at first glance doesn't appear to be worth much until you realize that the only light at night for many of the world's poor is from a fire or a kerosene lamp. The smoke and fumes from these lamps are a great health issue not to mention the pollution. There are organizations that help set up, educate and finance micro businesses to convert kerosene lamps to electric lamps. They install a small solar panel, battery and light-emitting diode lamps. The families pay for the conversions and future battery replacements from their 'kerosene budget' which can now be greatly reduced since sunlight is free.
The other system is a prepaid system where solar panels and associated equipment and batteries are installed at homes along with a card reader. A local 'solar store' sells electricity credit cards to the home owners. The store has equipment to reload the cards and to monitor usage to foresee future battery replacements. The home owner swipes his card to use electricity from the system. These systems typically cost around $200.
These are only two ways that electric power is being provided to the poor. As infrastructures and government subsidies are established there will be more investment in these developing world areas. Also DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Solar Power will play a larger role as local people become solar power literate.
This article was written by Darwin Frerking, a retired electrical engineer, who is a DIY Solar Power enthusiast. For information on tools often needed for DIY Solar Power System installation visit Screwdriver Sets and Wrench Sets.
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