Meeting the Needs of a Community: Powering the Future
As Usifu’s first trip back to his homeland comes to a close and more and more residents of the rural villages of Kambia district give their input on their biggest challenges, the needs assessment begins to take shape. As a state classified as a least developed country by the United Nations, one could imagine that nearly every basic necessity for life would be an area for improvement in Sierra Leone. However, some issues stood out to Usifu as he continued to travel the country side and speak with members of various communities. One of the first areas he mentioned that was in particular need of attention is possibility of introducing electricity to the rural communities of Kambia.
The Need for Electricity
In Sierra Leone, over 80% of energy consumption is focused on biomass, meaning the burning of wood, followed by the use of charcoal (UNDP 2012). Imported petroleum products are a distant second as far as energy use is concerned, and grid-generated electricity accounts for only 7% of the energy in Sierra Leone, with only 10% having access to this type of power. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly 900 million people who do not have access to electricity. For most people, wood fuels their everyday activities. But like many African countries, the untapped potential for solar energy is present. Aside from being a green source of energy, it is also easy to build solar power to scale, as many East Africans are finding out. For example, solar powered cell phone charging kiosks in Tanzania are becoming popular due to their ease of operation and maintenance (BBC). In addition, it’s also much more affordable than the kerosene that lights the homes of many Africans who live off the grid. The idea of solar energy as the solution to Africa’s energy needs is gaining traction in the international community as well. Both the United States Agency for International Development and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development have taken a serious interest in helping take solar energy from the micro to the macro scale, providing grid electricity for millions of people (Devex). With proven success, international interest, and the ever present need to mitigate and counter the effects of climate change, the potential for bringing large scale solar power to Sierra Leone is high. With access to affordable electricity, the potential for elevating the standard of living is endless.