Seeing The Light: Celebrating REES Africa, Solar Sisters, and RevoluSolar

In my last blog post, I spoke about the importance of consuming good news as well as bad. Being aware of positive developments around the world is uplifting and can be a better motivator than bad news to get us to take action to improve the state of things. So, in this post, I am going to provide a healthy dose of good news that will hopefully lift your spirits a little and remind you that change is possible.

I thought that a good place to start in our Good News Series is with positive updates on renewable energy, since this is Zero Carbon Charge’s area of expertise. I also promised that I would give special attention to African initiatives and this is exactly what I am going to do. 

A light in the dark

One of my favourite stories that I read recently is about a Nigerian woman named Yetunde Fadeyi. People in Nigeria have the lowest access to electricity of anywhere in the world with approximately 92 million people living without power. Those living in energy poverty live mainly in remote rural areas. The country’s big energy companies don’t feel incentivised to expand services to these marginalised communities. It does not benefit their bottom line so they are not interested. 

Fadeyi started her initiative with the belief that clean sustainable energy is a human right, not a luxury. In 2017, she founded REES Africa, which now provides solar power to over 25 000 people in 11 communities living in the most impoverished regions of Nigeria. The organisation supplies solar micrograms which rely on solar panels to generate cheap and consistent power for low-energy appliances, sockets, and perhaps most crucially, light bulbs.

The response from the communities has been overwhelming. Residents, especially women, have reported that having access to light, especially during the night, has changed their lives. 

Children read before bed, women no longer have to give birth by the light of a kerosene lamp, and no longer have to wake up at dawn to prepare food because there isn’t enough light to do so in the evenings.

They also feel safer; they don’t have to fear going out at night under the cover of darkness. This is one of the major benefits of solar and wind power.

Boy reading by renewable energy light

 The plants can be operated decentrally and in local grids, which means they aren’t reliant on the main electricity grid. This is particularly beneficial in countries and regions where government-provided electricity is unreliable (cough cough ESKOM), or in rural areas where power lines have never reached.

More women taking the lead

Solar Sisters is another Nigerian NGO that recognises the disproportionate effect that energy poverty and climate change have on women. The organisation works with women in rural communities to help them become solar entrepreneurs—running their own clean energy businesses selling solar-powered products. Solar Sisters provides entrepreneurs with a year of training which takes place in their communities. During this time they learn about business skills, marketing, record-keeping, and clean energy solutions. After the entrepreneurs have started their businesses, Solar Sisters provides ongoing mentorship, advice, and encouragement. Thus far, the organisation has helped over 10 000 women become solar entrepreneurs.

What I love so much about these initiatives is that they are such brilliant examples of how moving to green solutions can be hugely beneficial not just for the planet but for people. This is what the just transition means.

We are not sacrificing human interests or development for the sake of the planet—quite the opposite.

This is especially important to keep in mind when considering the African climate justice movement. There is a general concern that having to move towards a greener economy will mean that developing nations lose out on the coal-powered opportunities that the developed world used (and abused) to get where they are. But this need not be the case. It is more than possible to create climate-friendly initiatives that both uplift people and protect the planet. I don’t know about you, but hearing about the incredible work of organisations like REES Africa and Solar Sisters who are doing just this makes me feel hugely encouraged.

The global view

In April, an eagerly awaited Global Electricity Review was published by Ember, an energy think tank and with it came some uplifting climate news, particularly out of Europe. According to Ember, the proportion of the EU’s energy that comes from fossil fuels hit a new low of 23% in April 2024. This means that more than three quarters of the EU’s energy comes from renewable sources, which is quite a statistic! Globally, clean energy now makes up 30% of the world’s electricity. There is still a long way to go towards the 60% renewable energy by 2030 goal, but the rate of growth is very encouraging. It is primarily wind and solar power that are driving this development. Solar in particular continues to grow exponentially. With the price of solar panels and battery storage costs dropping, 2024 is predicted to be a ‘bumper year’ for solar energy generation.

Spotlight on Brazil

The Ember report singled out a couple of countries where the growth in renewable energy has been particularly impressive. One of these is Brazil. As a developing nation, Brazil’s electricity demand is on the rise, but they have managed to avoid a similarly major increase in carbon output by leaning heavily into solar and wind power. This is on top of their already major hydropower facilities. They have the second cleanest grid in the G20, with renewables making up around 50% of final energy consumption and a whopping 93% of electricity generation. Wind and solar are growing the fastest, currently standing at 21% of the country’s electricity, up from a mere 3.7% in 2015. This dramatic increase is very heartening, especially in a country that is still developing and scrambling to meet the power demand. 

There are numerous Brazilian initiatives and organisations using solar to empower communities. RevoluSolar, for example, began in a favela in Rio de Janeiro in 2015 and has since expanded into a number of other communities. The organisation installs solar panels in community spaces, and in the process trains community members to be solar power installers themselves. They also give workshops to children and adults on climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy, and general environmental awareness and sustainability.  

Silver linings

Wind and solar energy have taken off at a rate that no one expected and they are not showing any signs of slowing. I for one will be keeping a close eye on solar this ‘bumper year’ to see if the predictions are true. Solar’s takeover is extremely good news for the planet. It also provides a wealth of opportunity to improve the lives of those without light or power. All around the globe, from Nigeria to Brazil, people with passion are grabbing those opportunities and empowering their communities. We should learn from and celebrate them. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josie is a writer and researcher who wants to do her bit to make the world a little greener. She is currently doing her PhD in Philosophy at King’s College London where she is researching ethical questions surrounding AI.

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