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November 19, 2013

Bringing clean energy to poor communities in Africa

Photo courtesy of Flickr


Africa is beginning to see a new light. A solar-powered light that is. Currently 598 million Africans live off the grid in rural Africa. Many of them still use kerosene lamps to light their homes, a practice that can consume up to 20 percent of each family’s income and is harmful to both the environment and the health of the families.

To help solve this problem SunFunder and SunnyMoney have stepped in with solar power. Together, they are working to move Africa beyond the age of kerosene lamps and into the solar future. But what are these organizations, and how do they work?

SunFunder is a crowdsourcing solar energy initiative that links donors--like you--to solar businesses--like SunnyMoney--in an effort to offer affordable solar energy to the 1.3 billion people worldwide without reliable electricity. To see our pilot project with SunFunder go here. SunFunder allows donors to select the cause they want to support, collects the donations, and then loans the money to the solar company doing that work. The solar company invests the money and earns a profit. That profit is returned to SunFunder and ultimately the original donors.

Since first launching 15 months ago, SunFunder has fully funded 10 projects, made 1,200 total project investments, from more than 590 donors from 37 countries, with a 100% repayment rate. It has helped

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more than 50,000 people. Not bad for a year and a halfs work.

But if that’s not remarkable enough, the loans are now being repaid in under a year. You read that right. SunFunder partnered with SunnyMoney last year, and their first loan of $10,000 to sell solar lights to families in Zambia has been fully repaid in the first nine months.

SunnyMoney sells their solar lights and phone chargers exclusively in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania through the schools’ network. In order to create the most trustworthy system to sell solar lights and publicize their message, SunnyMoney networks with head teachers to spread the word about solar lights and phone chargers. This gives students and their families an opportunity to purchase lights for their homes with the help of a trusted source, the teachers.

The payoff has been huge. SunnyMoney has sold more than 700,000 solar lights which allows residents to have cheap, reliable, environmentally friendly lighting -- an option they’ve never had before. This benefits both the families and the students who can now more easily study and do their homework  in the evenings.

“As a result of this project, the owners of new solar lanterns in the Eastern Province [of Africa] will experience significant savings in their energy costs, better light quality to study by, healthier indoor air to breathe, and easier mobile phone charging,” the SunFunder website states.

While the solar lights cost money upfront, the lights pay for themselves in the first 12 weeks and typically last five years. The benefits for families are immediate and lasting.

“A solar lamp does more than shine a light. A solar lamp protects the environment and transforms lives,” states SolarAid, the charity that owns SunnyMoney, on its website.

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team


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