Unmatched scalability, time-to-install, and physical footprint are three of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology’s significant advantages and benefits over other energy options. Whether designed to supply clean, renewable electricity to one household or tens of thousands, solar PV systems are unrivaled in terms of matching a project’s scale to clean energy output, and the ability to get a system up and running in comparatively short order.
Solar PV’s small physical footprint is another big advantage, particularly when it comes to bringing electrical power to isolated communities that lack, or have a particularly hard time gaining access to, an electrical grid. Israeli non-profit Jewish Heart for Africa has been capitalizing on all three of these attributes.
Founded in 2008 by Sivan Borowich Ya’ari, Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA) “uses Israeli solar and agricultural technology to bring light, clean water, improved education, nutrition and proper medical care to rural villages in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda.” This month, the non-profit will complete its 57th solar energy installation in four years, affording some 250,000 Africans access to electricity for the first time.
Solar PV as Keystone for Sustainable Development
“Of all the needs facing the developing world today, energy may not seem like a top priority,” explains Ya’ari, “but imagine a clinic trying to offer medical care at night without light. Patients can hardly find the clinic, doctors are forced to perform urgent procedures by the light of unsafe and unsanitary kerosene lamps, and they don’t have refrigerators to store lifesaving medicines and vaccines.
In these villages, solar technology isn’t an alternative energy source, it’s the only energy source. Powering a refrigerator, or even a light bulb, can save lives.”
JHA’s solar panels are also installed at schools, enabling students to gather and study after sundown. They also power water pumps, significantly enhancing the safety and reducing the amount of time and effort village women and children have to put into collecting and carrying clean water.
2011 was a year of significant achievement for JHA. Intended to serve as a launching pad for outreach, education and expansion to surrounding communities, JHA established its first eco-village in Ndaula, Malawi. Each eco-village is to be equipped with a solar-powered school, medical clinic, water pump and drip irrigation system “in order to improve their healthcare, education and economy, all using sustainable technologies.”
JHA’s Solar-Powered Eco-Villages
The Ndaula eco-village and other projects were the culmination, as well as a new beginning, for JHA in Malawi. JHA’s project team arrived in the country in February 2011, having worked for months with the Malawi Mission to the UN and its in-country partner Goods4Good to pave the way for its expansion. In just a few months, JHA had hired a local project manager and gotten its operations off the ground.
In addition to the Ndaula eco-village, JHA has installed a solar PV system at the Ukwe medical clinic. Serving some 30,000 people, medical staff at the Ukwe clinic had been treating patients — including delivering babies — by the light of kerosene lamps. The solar PV system now provides lighting 24×7, as well as solar-powered refrigeration, an essential function that the clinic has lacked for years. A solar PV micro-business that JHA sets up at all its project sites is providing local residents with jobs and income.
Looking ahead, JHA intends to bring solar PV power to another 250,000 Africans in coming years. “We couldn’t be more proud to reach this exciting milestone,” Ya’ari continued, “but for us, it’s not about reaching a big number. It’s about the people and the stories behind the quarter million: the mother who can bring home clean water to her family for the first time, the child who won’t get polio or tuberculosis because she received a vaccine stored in our solar powered refrigerators. These individuals are the reason that we’re already preparing to work towards the next quarter million.”
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.