Life for an estimated 100,000 people in poverty-stricken rural India has been improved dramatically by several hours of reliable solar-powered lighting every night, made available by a UN-led pilot project to facilitate household financing for solar home systems.
The $1.5 million pilot, managed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has improved so many lives in India that sister programmes to boost energy access are being initiated in other developing countries.
Even a few hours of 20 to 40-watt solar-powered lighting in homes and small shops nightly has been credited with better grades for schoolchildren, better productivity for cottage-based industries such as needlework artisans, and even better sales at fruit stands, where produce is no longer spoiled by fumes from kerosene lamps.
Behind these quality-of-life upgrades is an innovative UN-led project to persuade Indian bankers to finance small loans for solar systems typically $300 to $500 for a system to power two to four small lights or appliances. A report on the programme will be offered at the UN Commission for Sustainable Development, the annual two-week meeting of which opens in New York Monday April 30 with a focus on energy issues.
"Kerosene used by the poor for lighting is often unaffordable, unavailable, unsafe and unhealthy while the electricity power grid is unreliable. To provide even this little degree of electricity reliability and independence is to empower the poor in ways that can profoundly alter lives for the better," says Timothy E. Wirth, President of the UN Foundation (www.UNFoundation.org), which, with the Shell Foundation (www.shellfoundation.org), provided the project's core funding.
He notes that international study after study has established strong, direct links between electricity use and financial success and well-being.