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Biomass, especially wood and coal, dominates the energy sector in Sierra Leone, accounting for some 80 per cent of consumption, followed by imported petroleum products at some 13 per cent. Grid-generated electricity makes up the remainder, or approximately 7 per cent. Less than 1 per cent of the country’s rural population has access to electricity. Households almost exclusively use wood fuel, the traditional source of energy, for cooking and other activities despite significant health and environmental concerns and failure to provide night-time lighting. Peoples health and productivity are seriously hampered by their dependence on traditional fuels and technologies, with women and children most at risk. (http://www.undp.org/content/dam/sierraleone/docs/focusareadocs/undp_sle_energyprofile.pdf )
Towards a Solution
Since 2012, the Government of Sierra Leone has partnered with the Government of India and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to tackle this challenge. The aim is to provide lighting in off-grid rural areas of Sierra Leone through solar photovoltaic lanterns, thereby improving medical services and childrens education and empowering women. Through UNIDO, the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) based in India, and the company Sunlabob based in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, the project provides a network of expertise, know-how and skills training in solar and renewable energy that is changing the way in which countries power off-grid communities. Indias expertise and extensive field experience with solar photovoltaic technologies in rural communities and Sunlabob’s strong technical support fit well in the Sierra Leonean context.
The fee-for-service/rental model for dissemination of solar lanterns piloted in India in the early 1990s was adopted in the Sierra Leone village of Kychom, where six charging stations for 50 solar lanterns each were set up. Each charging station is managed by a group of individuals who rent the charged lanterns to households. Technical training on the installation, operation and maintenance of the equipment was provided to local technicians during and after installation.
The project has had a tangible impact in different areas, such as children’s education (doubled enrolment and a 60-per cent rise in examination success), job creation (due to the need for technicians, organizing committees and extended business hours), better health services (solar energy powering lights at clinics), and women’s socioeconomic status. Four Sierra Leonean engineers and technicians were trained in India and in turn trained Kychom residents to undertake the servicing of solar photovoltaic systems and lanterns.
The use of solar energy to provide light to off-grid households and communities is the major innovation of the initiative. It is unique in the sense that Kychom village had never had easily accessible energy; only urban residents have access to grid electricity. This innovation has positively influenced the status quo by bringing clean electricity to a deprived rural poor community. It contributes to rural womens economic empowerment in particular, within a highly patriarchal society. For women to be fully involved in all aspects of the implementation of the project, including technical training, is extremely encouraging not only for womens access to energy but also for the promotion of women’s economic status and gender equality.
The project has a strong capacity-building and training component for local technicians, while the income generated from lantern rentals and mobile phone charging is used to pay salaries and address system costs. The Energy and Resource Institute and Sunlabob have remained in personal contact with local technicians to ensure continued operation and maintenance success. The Government of Sierra Leone realizes the potential of the initiative and intends to mainstream it in its plans. The Government is planning to use off-grid solar power services and promote the creation of markets for solar technologies through the private sector.
The success of solar lanterns as a viable off-grid alternative is spreading across Africa thanks to its easy- to-use, easily maintained, self-financing character. The initiative will be rolled out to all rural areas in Sierra Leone so that remote areas likely off the national grid will have access to affordable and sustainable energy.
Partners and beneficiaries include isolated, rural communities and households; the Sierra Leone Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Local Government; the Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) (India); Sunlabob (Lao Peoples Democratic Republic); and UNIDO. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy of India provided equipment and training through TERI. UNIDO undertook the implementation of the project and Sunlabob supplemented the requested technical support while the government ministries of Sierra Leone continue to monitor the project for effective operation and management.
Contact: Mr. Rana Pratap Singh, Renewable and Rural Energy Unit/Energy Branch, UNIDO, R.P.Singh@unido.org
Project name: Solar Lantern Project
Countries: India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone
Sustainable Development Goal targets: 5.b, 7.1
Supported by: Government of India
Implementing entity: UNIDO
Project status: Ongoing
Project period: 2012 to present
Related resources: TERI Facebook; TERI Twitter; TERI YouTube; Sunlabob Facebook; Sunlabob Twitter; Sunlabob YouTube; Makingit Magazine.