Tending solar panels in Benin, Africa

Photograph courtesy Robert A. Freling, Solar Electric Light Fund

Great Energy Challenge Innovator: Solar Electric Light Fund

Project: Whole Village solar electrification

Location: Kalalé, Benin

Summary: In partnership with the local Association pour le Developpement Economique Social et Culturel de Kalalé (ADESCA), Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) designed its Whole Village electrification program.  Because an agricultural component was determined to be the critical initial step, the project's pilot phase involved installing solar drip-irrigation systems—the Solar Market Garden (SMG)—for each of three women's cooperatives in two pilot villages, Bessassi and Dunkassa. The SMG merges solar-powered water pumping with a drip-irrigation model pioneered at the Niger office of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and is designed to yield produce for sale as well as consumption.

This success also provided the basis for extending electricity throughout the pilot villages, which is the objective of this project. This work involves installing systems to power each village's water supply, school, health center, micro-enterprise and Internet centers, street and market lighting, and household solar LED lighting.

Three wells for drinking water have been successfully drilled (only one may require minor purification treatment). Finishing the water delivery system (piping, tower locations, and spigot locations) is the next priority, followed this winter by solar electrifying the villages' clinics and schools. The micro-enterprise centers and the balance of the work is planned for 2012.

The long-term goal is to provide a development model for much of West Africa, where conditions are similar to those in northern Benin. Additionally, the model can be adapted for use throughout the developing world.

Goal: Power vital operations of two villages and cultivate farming opportunities via PV-powered water management systems

"The Great Energy Challenge is a terrific National Geographic Society program that not only helps to inform and educate people about the importance of energy and how to use it wisely, but also opens minds to new solutions—such as SELF's models for solar rural electrification—that can change people's lives. Since the United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, this program will play a key role in advancing universal access to energy. SELF is honored to partner with the UN and the NGS to show how distributed solar power fights energy poverty." —Robert A. Freling, Executive Director, Solar Electric Light Fund

Related story: "Solar Energy Brings Food, Water, and Light to West Africa"

Project participants:

  • Solar Electric Light Fund (Robert Freling, president; Richard LaRue, development director; Jeff Lahl, project director)
  • Association pour le Developpement Economique Social et Culturel de Kalalé (ADESCA)
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
  • Stanford University’s Program on Food Security and the Environment (evaluation partner)

The Great Energy Challenge grant program, in collaboration with a distinguished group of scientists acting as the board of advisors, awards roughly a half-dozen grants per year. The goal of the grant program is to hasten the growth of promising, global energy solutions as a response to climate change, energy resource constraints and environmental limitations.

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