By Chris Meehan
Kiva Makes Microfinancing for Solar Energy Available in Developing Nations
Imagine this: You’re in a developing nation with little access to electricity. In fact, you don’t have access to a grid, or enough electricity to keep a refrigerator and a light on and water filtered in your home. Or, if you have a generator, you can barely afford to pay for the expensive diesel that keeps it running. Now imagine that you’re in the U.S. with enough electricity to serve all your needs at relatively low prices, meaning you’ve got a couple extra bucks left over at the end of the month that you don’t know what to do with. Well, maybe you could help that other ‘you’ out by supporting one of Kiva’s solar entrepreneurs in developing nations.
The nonprofit is increasing support of renewable energy microfinance programs where people can invest as little as $25 to support citizens in some of Kiva’s 67 countries. The microfinancing organization says it has supported 918,735 lenders since it started in 2005 and its loans have had a 99.01 percent repayment rate — something that’s hard to find many investments.
Now, through programs like Solar Sister in Uganda, it’s supporting clean energy projects. The pilot project is four months old and already has 11 entrepreneurs that have attracted $3,325 thus far. According to Kiva, the project is attempting to establish an Avon-style network of women to sell solar lights, mobile phone chargers and more. “In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up 70 percent of the poor living without electricity. They are also the primary decision makers when it comes to choosing solar lighting and heating over the standard kerosene,” Kiva says. By borrowing and getting the "business in a bag" the women can sell the sytstems to fellow villagers and reinvest the profits into growing the business or supporting things like education.
For that project Solar Sisters is working with Barefoot Power, D.light Design and Greenlight Planet. Depending on villagers’ needs, the systems could be as small as a solar-powered light, allowing villagers’ to replace dangerous kerosene or oil lights for use at night. Or they can include a light and charger system, allowing villagers to power their mobile devices — allowing farmers to check on markets, or villagers to communicate with friends, neighbors, or contact emergency medical care.
The organization is also coordinating loans for EarthSpark International, which is working to eradicate energy poverty in Haiti. That nonprofit is working on both the local and national level in an attempt to bring clean energy to Haiti, using solar lights and solar ovens. “Efficient cookstoves save time and money — about $5 per month. Solar desk lamps offer over five times as much light output as a kerosene lamps, and can pay for themselves out of fuel savings in less than six months,” EarthSpark says.
More and more companies and organizations are popping up to make it easier to access solar in developing nations, too. For instance, LuminAID just won $100,000 in startup capital for its low-cost, inflatable, waterproof solar lights from the Clean Energy Trust’s Clean Energy Challenge. While these products are great opportunities for people to get involved in helping countries and people get out of poverty, there’s always more than can be done. But one of the great things about microfinance programs is the low barrier to entry and the knowledge that investors possess, which can help borrowers learn, too.
These are just a few of the opportunities that are out there. Visit Kiva's Green Loans program to learn more about others.