UNDP promotes solar energy use in Botswana

13 Jul 2010

Until last year, the Mokgatlhe family in Kgope, a remote village situated 50 kilometres west of Botswana’s capital, had been using firewood to illuminate and heat their home. They joined 80 percent of Botswana’s rural population in this practice, one that led to the destruction of countless acres of forest. 

Responding to Botswana’s urgent call to introduce alternative fuels and reduce carbon emissions, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have partnered with the Government and local communities to bring an eco-friendly and creative solution to a problem that causes damage to both the environment and health through the introduction of solar power.

The initiative is jointly funded by the Government and GEF and implemented by UNDP. Over the past six months, the programme has been steadily rolling-out solar home systems, rechargeable lanterns, community solar recharge stations and wood-saving cooking appliances.

Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), the country’s national electricity utility, has been tasked with providing solar energy services to Botswana’s rural citizens. In Kgope, the village’s development committee is running an energy kiosk, or store, as part of a pilot franchise owned by BPC. The kiosk sells solar laterns, wood-saving stoves and hot bags, specially designed bags that keep food warm and reduce cooking time on stoves.

Serobele Kgadimapa, who was hired by the village committee to run the kiosk, says up to 20 lanterns can be charged in the same kiosk at a time for a modest fee. She also takes orders for solar home systems.

Mrs. Mokgatlhe has watched her family’s world change overnight after purchasing their own solar home system.

“It is a changed world for them,” she says with a smile.

“They even spend more time reading and finishing their school work these days,” adds her husband.

Instead of worrying that the battery powering their lights will run out, Mrs. Mokgatlhe must now make sure that her children get to bed on time. The family is now hoping to buy an upgrade to their system that will allow for the powering of a television and a radio.

BPC has also established solar energy kiosks in the neighbouring villages of Dikgatlhong, Lentsweletau and Medie. The roll-out is expected to gain momentum with time as more rural people use the products and word spreads about their usefulness.

The programme is placing priority on poor and female-headed households, offering a pricing structure that meets their needs, with much of the solar energy packages being offered at very low, subsidized prices. Additional equipment, however, is offered at normal price.

In addition to saving firewood, the programme is saving valuable time for women and girls, the people most likely to do cooking in their households. The wood-saving stove, for example, cooks a four-person meal with only a kilogramme of firewood, greatly reducing the time needed to collect the wood. The hot bags reduce overall cooking time.

When the solar energy products have taken root in these pilot villages solar energy will be rolled out to other rural villages of Botswana. The use of solar energy may finally reduce the depletion of forests and carbon emissions.