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Making the Solar Panel Switch in Ghana

From time to time, The African Angle will focus on entrepreneurs and businesses throughout Africa and discuss the political, social, or environmental issues surrounding their work. This piece, about Black Star Energy in Ghana, is the first in this occasional series. 

By Carmel Pryor

In December 2015, leaders from 150 nations along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries gathered at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France, also known as COP21. These leaders agreed to a very important mission: to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Starting in the new year, Black Star Energy, a Ghanaian subsidiary of U.S.-based Energicity Corp, aspires to join these leaders as a part of the climate change solution. Black Star Energy seeks to reduce deforestation in Ghana, specifically in the rural communities of the Ashanti region, by providing solar panels as an alternative to wood fuel.

Deforestation has been identified as a critical environmental issue in Ghana, where 33.7 percent of forested land, equivalent to 2,500,000 acres, has been lost since the early 1990s. Between 2005 and 2010, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 2.19 percent per annum, the sixth highest deforestation rate globally for that period.

In Ghana, wood fuel use is dominant in rural households. More than 2.2 million families depend on it for cooking and heating, and at least 280,000 of them use it for small-scale processing activities, such as fish smoking, pottery making, and oil extraction.

There are some 600,000 small-scale businesses, such as chops bars, street food, and grills, which depend on wood fuel or charcoal as their main sources of energy. In addition, 1.3 billion people do not have access to grid-powered electricity, and 700 million do not have a reliable enough source of electricity to support their daily lives. Wood fuel is thus crucial for food preservation, food security, and cash earnings for both rural and urban people. 

To cope with a life without electricity, people resort to purchasing kerosene lamps, batteries, and generators, spending between $75-150 per year on poor substitutes for electricity. In addition to the high cost of these substitutes, kerosene lamps, open cook fires, and diesel generator fumes are responsible for millions of deaths each year. 

Lack of access to reliable electricity leads to reduced life expectancy rates due to inadequate health care facilities, contributes to the growth of mega cities as people leave their home communities seeking access to basic services, and stymies overall economic growth.

Black Star Energy has two grids totaling 9 kilowatts which supply power to 400, providing enough electricity for people to have lights, fans, stereos, and TVs. Once built, all seven grids will provide electricity to 2500. Members of the company work side by side with local professionals, such as masons, electricians, carpenters, machinists, and engineers, to develop the community infrastructure for the projects.

Climate change may be a global issue, but it can be addressed in a variety of ways at the local level. Deforestation should be understood as a consequence of a lack of energy alternatives. Communities in Ghana should not be expected to bear the brunt of climate change solutions without being provided an effective and sustainable energy source aside from wood fuel. This is the impetus behind Black Star Energy’s construction and operation of a solar powered micro-grid in Ghana, which so far reaches upward of 2,500 people.

The Paris agreement is integral in addressing changes that must occur on a planetary scale, but there are also individual livelihoods at stake in the climate change conversation. Black Star Energy works to combat climate change at the community level by reinforcing sustainable practices that are also convenient and efficient for people to implement in their daily lives. 

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Carmel Pryor is a writer and artist living in Washington, D.C.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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