The concept of humans thriving on clean energy is hard to imagine, considering we rely (unnecessarily) on limited energy resources that deplete and pollute the environment. But the truth is we can thrive on solar power, just like the plant kingdom, and it’s not hard to do.The household solar market in Africa is rising
Two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa still don’t have access to electricity. That’s over 600 million people who conduct their daily lives without access to many modern conveniences and even necessities made possible by electricity.
Thankfully, the recent Energy Africa Partnership Agreement
between Zambia and the UK government is expected to increase access to electricity for everyone in Zambia, by promoting the household solar market. And solar is being chosen for a reason – it doesn’t rely on the grid. Waiting for grid access isn’t going to bring electricity fast enough
Although being connected to the power grid is a normal way of life for many, in order for the grid to reach all of Zambia, it would take an entire generation. That’s why going solar is the best solution.
According to the UK government, access to clean and affordable energy is one of the keys to ending poverty. That’s due, in part, because 50% of businesses in sub-Saharan Africa see the lack of electricity as a major constraint to doing business
Since creating a business is one of the best ways for a family to get out of poverty, it makes sense that an increase in access to electricity would facilitate the people’s rise out of poverty.Electricity itself isn’t the problem
When we think about the prevalence of energy crises in Africa, and how it seems to be such a challenge to get electricity to certain areas of the country, we may tend to think that electricity is the problem – that while it’s a huge convenience, it’s also an expensive hassle to deal with. But electricity itself isn’t difficult or expensive – the difficulty lies in the energy sources and methods used to produce the electricity.How electricity is created from energy sources
In order to create electricity, you have to create a magnetic field around a coil. This process induces a voltage inside the coil, and when the process becomes looped, it creates electricity that can be stored, transferred at high voltage, and converted to a lower voltage at the source of use (like a house). This process is accomplished with resources like coal and wind.
And just like coal and wind, the sun’s energy can also be converted into electricity, but in a different way. Light itself contains massive amounts of energy, and that energy is usually experienced in the form of heat (like when we sit outside in the sun and feel the heat on our skin).
However, there are certain materials that will convert that light into an electrical current instead of heat. Materials like silicon and copper-indium-gallium-selenide – what solar panels are made out of. Solar is getting more affordableSolar power is getting cheaper
every year, and it’s also becoming a more preferred form of energy across the world. And because it doesn’t rely on the grid, it’s the perfect source of energy for Zambia and other areas of Africa that won’t see grid access for quite some time.
And there’s more than one way to build a solar panel. Greener Ideal
talks about the improved efficiency of printing solar cells with a 3D printer, and the low cost could be just what Zambia needs to bring electricity to more people.
And while manufacturers continue to create flat solar panels, there is yet another way to increase solar efficiency, as discovered by a 13-year-old who just had to look to nature to find the answer.Looking at nature for the example
Although we have a long way to go before we can capture sunlight and convert it directly into energy like plants do, we can look at the way plants harvest the sun’s energy for a more efficient collection method.
In a world that maintains a “more is better” philosophy, that’s not the case when it comes to using solar panels to harvest energy from the sun. If you look at the way nature captures the sun’s energy, like trees, you’ll notice that the branches of the tree grow up and out in a complex fractal pattern that allows each branch an individual vantage point to absorb the most sunlight possible. With a larger base of branches at the bottom, and narrowing as it gets to the top, the sun’s energy is available to all branches equally. 13-year-old
Aidan Dwyer created a tree of solar panels modeled after real trees, using the Fibonacci sequence to structure the panels. His invention yielded over 20 percent more power than using flat panels.
As with any energy source, bringing solar powered homes to Zambia will require an investment of both time and financial resources; however, it appears to be the fastest way to bring electricity to a large population without having to wait for grid infrastructure to be built.
Commerce in Africa has already been increasing, thanks to the internet and online payment systems making it easier for merchants to do business. So when electricity reaches Zambia through the solar market, we could see a dramatic decrease in poverty and a surge in creative entrepreneurs contributing to a thriving economy.