At SolarAid we have always been on a mission to make solar energy and lighting more affordable. We’ve sold almost two million little solar lights, we pioneered light libraries and Pay As You Go solar for people below the poverty line, and launched what was at the time, the world’s most affordable solar light.

But despite this success, we need to do more to reach those in extreme poverty. As we reported in our last blog, business as usual scenarios are projecting that, by 2030, over 600 million people across sub-saharan Africa will still be without access to modern forms of energy.

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2030 is the same year that Sustainable Development Goal 7 is supposed to ‘ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services’. So, as things stand, we're heading for failure – but SolarAid is committed to changing that.

The main problem we face is affordability. People want solar products, but living on less than a few dollars per month makes it virtually impossible to afford even the most basic forms of energy and lighting. As our CEO, John Keane, said in a recent article: “There’s a pure and simple finance gap between what the poorest people can afford and what they want.”

So we’ve come up with a new idea, which we're calling Project Switch.

Working with African communities, we will install cables, switches and light bulbs in households throughout rural villages for free. Households will then be able to rent a solar charged battery for an affordable monthly fee – no more than they would usually pay for candles or disposable batteries – to power the lights in their homes.

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When the batteries need recharging families will return it to a solar powered charging station, which we will install in a central location in the village, and swap it for a fully charged one – which they can do as often as they like.

The monthly fee from each household will pay for someone to look after and run the charging station and help creates a sustainable solution that won’t depend on aid.

This solution will be life changing. It will light up homes, enabling children to play and study safely. No more burns, or even worse, accidents from using candles and no one in the village will need to buy candles or paraffin anymore, helping them save money and escape from poverty. People that have never been able to afford solar before will get access to a solar powered light bulb which plugs into a USB port, so they'll also be able to charge other devices.

We’re hoping the fee will be between $1 and $2 per month, but as innovation is practical research and ongoing development, this is the type of data we will learn more about by doing. If the fee is unaffordable for some, our job will be to find ways in which we can keep people’s lights on.

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Our CEO, John Keane, recently returned from Malawi where he visited pilot sites and discussed the project timeline and more details with the team. In Mandevu village he met George, a nine-year-old boy who had built his own torch from some old batteries he'd found in the street, some bamboo, a shoe-lace and an LED. George's ingenuity is impressive but his desperation to provide light for his family is even more palpable. 

If we can raise the funds, the pilot of Project Switch will start later this year, after which we will monitor it for six to 12 months to assess how things are working, with a view to replicating the model at further locations in Malawi and hopefully, across Africa.

SolarAid has just won the Energy Globe award for our work in Malawi, for the second year running but, as John says:

"…we’re not really in this for awards. Today, in 2018, there are still more than 600 million people in Africa who lack access to electricity and light, a situation which is totally unacceptable."

We can not fix this problem on our own. We call on governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals everywhere to step up and help us bring more people out of the darkness."

With your help we can change the present reality. Please support our Project Switch appeal to light up Mandevu Village, so that George, and all the other children and their families, can have a brighter future.

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