We can save a million lives with solar electricity access in Africa

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark. -Michelangelo

By increasing solar electricity access in Africa, we can collectively save a million lives or more through poverty reduction and preventative health measures over the next 10 to 20 years.  We estimate (from World Bank statistics) that there are approximately four to six million deaths each year in Africa that are correlated with inequality and lack of development.  Solar electricity access can help lesson economic inequality and therefore can be used to mitigate at least some portion of these preventable deaths.

Because electricity and lights provide a valuable contribution to people's living standards in many different ways, we believe that the act of providing electricity access can help remove multiple barriers to development.  In order to amplify the benefits of solar electricity, we at Kuyere! also plan to  educate our customers and partners on how they can they can use their solar systems to help increase incomes, enhance education and prevent disease. To maximize positive impacts for our customers, we will support educational activities and distribute additional products and services that can improve health and welfare beyond the sale of a simple solar system as we grow to scale.

There are at least 5 ways that solar electricity access can be designed to maximize this life-saving and poverty-reducing potential:
  1. Affordability enhances poverty-reduction: a solar solution needs to be able to deliver much better service for much lower cost than what people are currently using.  This is done by providing the solar electricity service and systems at a cost that is equal to or less than the cost of what people are currently spending on batteries, candles, or kerosene.
  2. Design to support productive activity: solar system design should support productive activities which means in most cases that the light should be able to light up a large area where several people can work or do chores more productively at night.
  3. Build local skills, and local value-added: A solar solution should employ, educate and empower workers and organizations in the local communities in which they are used.  Increased local human and organizational capacity will help provide more goods and services than just solar lamps.
  4. Add educational and health improvement activities: Once people have some electricity and can see at night, they can increase education, improve hand-washing & sanitation and engage in other health improvement activities that can help mitigate what we call the African "preventable mortality crisis."
Our “Save a Million Lives with Solar” plan (in the document below) provides some of the quantitative details of how a million lives can be saved with ten years of effort to accelerate distributed solar electricity development (i.e. 2017 to 2026). The plan is based on the implementation and growth of our social-business venture--Kuyere!/Distributed Solar for Rural Africa (DSRA)--which provides affordable, quality solar electricity systems to low-income households in rural villages in Africa.

We argue that if an organization can optimize solar electricity in rural Africa to be (1) affordable, (2) financially sustainable, (3) moderately high quality, and (4) designed to reduce poverty and help prevent disease, then the distribution of such solar systems to 20 million to 40 million rural households in Africa can save a million lives or more in the next 10-20 years.
More specifically, we argue—based on evidence and data—that solar electricity access combined with simple, inexpensive preventative health interventions for the poorest households in rural Africa can potentially reduce mortality rates by 0.1%/year or more. What this means is that when a population of more than 100 million is served by anti-poverty rural solar electrification, then mortality will likely  decrease by more than 100,000 per year. Because of the these mortality-reduction impacts, a concerted  long-term program of solar access and associated preventative health improvements (such as mother's education) should result in  more than a million lives saved over the next one to two decades.

Please read the report below for a more detailed description.

Robert Van Buskirk,
Oct 1, 2016, 11:29 AM