Africa Lights the Way

In the dark and cold season, with the snow blowing and a wind that cuts like a knife, here’s some warm and shiny news from Kenya…

KIPTUSURI, Kenya — For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

The future is small, smart and decentralized. Will we win the energy race, or will we be buying Chinese solar panels because we did not invest in manufacturing our own? I have faith, and I believe that the prize for this race will be one giant step for mankind.

Read the rest of the story here.

Also, read between the lines. Sara Ruto’s energy use is modest and focused on what is essential for her family. Conservation and non-wastefulness are part of the mix. I’m going to switch off a couple of lights now. If enough people do that it makes a difference.