Push Toward Clean Energy Drives Demand for Solar-Powered Devices

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By David James

As Africa’s recent history shows, demand for power has required the electric grid to become more relied-upon despite problems such as inefficiency, high cost, pollution, load shedding, and corruption. This has resulted in solar energy growing in importance as part of Africa’s (and global) energy infrastructure. Those who provide solar energy range from large-scale solar power plants to startup firms that develop solar-powered devices that allow citizens to live without relying on an aging, unreliable power grid. Such startups along with movements by government and independent economic networks are required to change energy habits that are hard to break.

The need for off-grid solar energy is highlighted by the fact that only 24 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to electricity, and half of Africa’s population doesn’t have any access to electricity. That’s not to mention the problems that stem from pollution and harm to the climate along with high power tariffs that make affordability problematic for those that do have access to the power grid.

An example of what communities can do to increase availability of electricity in Africa comes from the IGEN-EA, a network of 26 national, regional and community civil societies as well as private sector players. According to its press materials, its main goal is to promote green economic initiatives in Africa with activities that include small-scale organic

agriculture and fishing, tourism, clean energy, forestry, and various other forms of natural resource management for off-grid energy. The organization has promoted investment opportunities in green energy such as solar. Similar organizations like Powershift Africa are pushing for citizens to become engaged with climate initiatives across the continent.

In addition to such initiatives, startup firms are making a difference in the off-grid solar energy movement such as GoSun, which generates its own funding through crowdfunding and produces goods that help citizens live without relying on the power grid. Small devices like solar-powered ovens, coolers, coffee makers, fans, chargers, and water purifiers are becoming more available. 

According to CEO Patrick Sherwin, GoSun creates solar-powered appliances that match the capability of typical appliances, but use far less energy. The devices are designed to maximize portability, durability, and a variety of power sources — solar, 12V, battery, and grid power. Alternatives like these will grow in importance as Africa faces unprecedented challenges in delivering clean energy.

Portable solar devices combined with advocating for more government and nonprofit efforts will enable Africans to live independent of the electric grid and have access to abundant clean energy. Relying on inefficient and inequitable energy utilities will become less common, but all stakeholders must play an active role in making the change.