"With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford, he noted. "You're seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts," Mr. Younger said."With our iPod trumpeting Christmas music, the lights on our mini synthetic tree glowing brightly, and a couple of laptops charging to watch Love Actually later this morning, it's easy to forget that just a few months ago I had to bike into the local market to charge my cellphone at a solar shack once a week or bike 40km into Djibo to charge my laptop once a month in order to use it for a couple of hours to catch up on 30 Rock and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But last night as I travelled by bus down to Bobo-Dioulasso to celebrate with other Peace Corps Volunteers, I watched countless bonfires dance along the horizon, defining the distance between those who are on-the-grid here in Burkina and those whose villages have yet to be plugged in.
But big city or little village, solar panels are prevalent in Burkina Faso. Even on the streets of Ouagadougou one sees them stacked for sale outside boutiques and in the Grand Marché. And the Volunteer who worked in Belehede before me started a fundraising campaign to finance the purchase of solar panels for the local elementary school and a computer to keep better records of students' performance. While I have not been back to visit due to lingering security issues in the Sahel, I've been told that the panels are in place and functioning well, even if the computer is unfortunately just gathering dust at the moment.
Here at FAVL, we're excited to see how we can incorporate solar technology into our libraries and programs in Burkina Faso. We recently received a $5,000 grant to purchase LED lights and run a study evaluating the effects they induce in several communities. Emilie and I will be designing and implementing a study early in the new year in an effort to gauge the utility of the lights at the village level. We're hoping to observe results such as those that the Times reports taking place in Kenya:
"Since Ms. Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers' grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs -- and the $20 she used to spend on travel."While it's hard to imagine the lights not making a positive impact on the communities, there is the slight fear that they await the same fate as the new computer in Belehede: relegation to a dusty corner, box unopened. Or, that the children who are the intended beneficiaries of our project will have their lights appropriated by older family members or members of the community. We'll be doing our best to make sure that the lights remain in the kids' hands and that they will be used to help bring about the forthcoming reading revolution that Michael blogged about a few days ago.
However, while we hope that everyone here in Burkina will eventually have access to affordable, renewable sources of light, there will always be those moments when it's still better to hit the switch.