Thursday, July 16, 2009
BBC News -- Two years after the installation of a solar power project funded by international aid groups, villagers in northern Ethiopia say the sun's energy has turned their lives around.
Rema, 150 miles north of the capital Addis Ababa, is home to Ethiopia's largest solar project.
Here, every house in the village has electricity powered by solar lighting systems.
This is unique in Ethiopia - 80% of the population live in rural areas where only 1% of the population have access to electricity.
Lighting up the countryside has long been a challenge for African governments. Unlike houses in urban areas, villages in rural areas are often difficult to connect to the national electricity grid.
Solar power has been touted by some as the long-term solution to Africa's energy needs.
Domestic solar panels can provide cheap, clean and reliable electricity.
Light for homework
The village roofs are dotted with solar panels. One panel gives them about four lamps. The energy can also be used for radios and tape recorders.
Solar power has had a significant impact on the lives of people living here.
Elfenesh Tefera, 40, enjoys solar energy at home with her 50-year-old farmer husband Aseged Hailemariam.
"Our kids can do their homework at night now, because there is light. They are very happy," says Ms Tefera.
"We've had solar energy for over a year now. We're very happy because we're saving money. Altogether we have eight children, and for our kids at school the solar energy is great."
Her husband adds: "We're taking care of the panels so that we don't have to spend money replacing them."
A local bar has increased its turnover because of solar energy. With lamps running on solar energy, people stay in the bar after darkness falls.
Cold beer is in high demand in Rema - the bar's solar-powered fridge has made it available.
Hirut Kebede, a 25-year old bar worker, says solar panels have changed her life.
"I don't have to struggle with smoke [from the gas lamps] any more. Before we used gas lamps, we had to keep bottles cold by putting them in the sand," she said.
"Now we have more customers and compared to before I sell a lot more than I used to."
Samson Tsegaye, the country director of the solar energy foundation in Ethiopia, says there are currently 300 requests for new solar home systems in Rema.
There are currently 2,100 solar home systems in the village.
Because of its solar power, Rema has become attractive to people from other areas. Paraffin for lamps is often hard to find in rural areas. As a result, newcomers are settling in and building new houses in the village.
A solar technician training school has been set up in Rema where students from technical schools are trained to manage solar energy.
There are currently 33 solar energy technicians who have been trained at the school in Rema, all working in different parts of Ethiopia.
"People are sometimes suspicious of energy coming from the sun," says Mr Tsegaye.
"Some say that it is the devil's work. It was difficult for them to understand at the beginning. But when they have light in their homes, they are really happy.
"They are 24-hour light users, and that is better than the big cities in this country."