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Earth Focus: Solar Power
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Earth Focus: Solar Power
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Burning in the Sun

One third of the world's population doesn't have access to electricity. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is helping remote rural communities to harness the power of the sun to give them safe, cheap energy to power lighting, medical refrigerators, and modern communications devices. 

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From Link TV's Earth Focus.

Learn more about the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF).

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
It's called energy poverty. One out of three people in the world don't have access to electricity. Most live in rural areas in developing countries and for them it's a blackout every night. As the world's population grows, so does demand for electricity, and the energy gap between the rich and the poor increases. The poor use wood, dung, or kerosene for fuel. Energy poverty means no power to pump water, refrigerate vaccine, or to connect to the global information network. For some in remote areas, hooking up to the grid is an impossible dream. But there are solutions that are making a difference. Solar energy is changing lives and livelihoods in the most unlikely of places. The Solomon Islands are an example. Let's take a look
VOICEOVER
They live in Sukiki, a small village on the coast of Guadalcanal.
TITLE
Sukiki, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
VOICEOVER
It's part of the Solomon Islands, an island nation in the South Pacific. They have no electricity, but they do have the sun. Without electricity, the people of Sukiki are forced to use kerosene, and kerosene isn't always their friend.
DR. SILENT TOVOSIA
The lantern was empty and she was going to fill the empty lantern with the kerosene when the whole thing caught fire and exploded, so she got burns to quite a large percentage of her body.
DR. HERMAN OBERLI [Central Hospital, Honiara, Solomon Islands]
This patient you have seen is typical for an exploding kerosene light. She's burned all over her front. Those patients, they stay in the hospital an average of at least 20 days per patient. They have no alternative. There's no electricity in the village. It's just what is available, these kerosene lamps. Nothing else. If they could have any other kind of lighting all these burns could be prevented.
VOICEOVER
This is the story of how the people of Sukiki learned to make their own electricity by capturing the light from the sun. That's Bob Freling. Bob is the executive director of a group called the Solar Electric Light Fund, or SELF. After all the equipment is delivered, the staff from SELF works with the villagers to map out a strategy. They trained some of the Sukiki villagers back in Honiara, in a week-long orientation session, and now everyone is learning, so that the village can continue to build and maintain the system after SELF is gone. So they set about making poles and digging holes and cutting down trees so there would be no shade where they put up the poles. And now it's time to turn on the lights. [cheering] Sukiki has electricity, but its essence will not change because of it. Sukiki will hold on to its nature. The people love this land, they are part of it. And now the light from the sun is more a part of them.
VOICEOVER
Bob Freling has directed SELF projects in more than 15 countries since 1997. He has received many awards for his work, including the 2008 King Hussein leadership award, presented by Queen Noor of Jordan in March 2009. He speaks with Earth Focus correspondent Miles Benson, about how solar power can bridge the energy gap.
MILES BENSON
Bob Freling, the Solar Electric Light Fund, what exactly are you trying to do in the world?
ROBERT FRELING [Executive Director, Solar Electric Light Fund]
Well, Miles, the Solar Electric Light Fund is a Washington DC based nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring solar power to rural and remote villages in the developing world
MILES BENSON
What is life like in a village where there is no lighting?
ROBERT FRELING
For approximately two billion people in the world, roughly a third or perhaps a fourth of humanity, whatever number you use, it's a very large percentage of humanity, that even in the 21st century does not have access to electricity. And imagine for these people, when the sun goes down, these folks are retreating into homes that are lit dimly, if at all, by candles or kerosene lamps. Their productive day pretty much comes to an end when the sun goes down.
MILES BENSON
There are health problems that are exacerbated by the absence of electricity. People depend on kerosene, and burning kerosene emits fumes and smoke and that causes problems, doesn't it?
ROBERT FRELING
It is said that people who live with kerosene lanterns end up smoking the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day. It's a couple of million people a year die from respiratory illnesses that are caused by indoor air pollution: open fires, kerosene lanterns. It's a huge health hazard. If you do nothing but replace those with solar electric lighting systems, you will have made a huge contribution to improving the health of rural families and communities in the developing world.
MILES BENSON
What changes do people experience when they're given light?
ROBERT FRELING
The moment when families are able to flip a switch and have an electric light come on for the first time in their lives, the first time that happened for me was in western China. I traveled into these remote mountain villages which could only be reached on foot, and we installed these solar home systems and I observed families experience electric light for the first time in their lives. And they were very moved, as I was. Also, I saw them be able to turn on a television set, and access news from around the world for the first time. So their whole world was basically opening up before them. The power can be used to not just provide lighting but also computers, where children can start to gain computer literacy skills at an early age. And, when combined with wireless communication technology, when you bring both computers and the internet to a rural community, then you've really accomplished something meaningful.
MILES BENSON
You have a project in Bhutan. Let's take a look.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Light is the language of the universe.
TITLE
Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan
VOICEOVER
And in the heart of Bhutan, deep in the Himalayas, where the rare black-necked crane flies south from Tibet, the universe is in the midst of a breathtaking conversation. Each winter, the black-necked crane makes its home here in the valley. The people devote art and prayer to this winged messenger that flies on the light from its summer home in the mountains of Tibet. Bob and his organization SELF are here at the invitation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature, to try to save the habitat of the black-necked crane, while preserving the path toward modernization for the people of Phobjikha Valley.
ROBERT FRELING
There are a lot of conservation efforts going on which often overlook how the needs of people that live in and near these ecosystems are so critical to the preservation of these ecosystems, because a lot of people haven't made that connection.
LAM DORJE [Executive Director, RSPN, Royal Society for the Protection of Nature]
This here for example, Phobjikha, is a very pristine environment, habitat for the endangered black-necked cranes, not ... ecologically very significant, and at the same time we have people with aspirations for development. There are ways by which both can be brought together. Conservation can be a basis for human welfare.
VOICEOVER
The 500 families who live in Phobjikha still cut down trees to make wood chips to light their homes. Even when supplemented with kerosene and its noxious fumes, the light is so meager that it is difficult for children to do homework, for weavers to weave, for tailors to sew, and for doctors to practice their art. Kerosene must be brought many miles over the mountains, often by hand, and at great expense. To discourage the people of Phobjikha from leaving for the city, and to help preserve the habitat of the black-necked crane, the people of Bhutan ask SELF to bring in a clean, renewable source of energy for the valley. And so into this world steps the Solar Electric Light Fund.
JEFF DAHL [Project Director, Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF)]
It's been a pleasure just walking into each house and seeing how people are living, and then just seeing the instant transformation from the time you show up at the house to the time you leave. Their house and their lives have been transformed.
ROBERT FRELING
We also electrified the health clinic in Phobjikha Valley, as well as the education center that is run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature.
MILES BENSON
Two billion is a lot of people to be living without light. SELF can't raise enough money all by itself to solve this problem. Governments are going to have to get more involved, aren't they?
ROBERT FRELING
Well, most of our projects have been focused at the village level at the household level, and we've typically worked with local NGOs, non-government organizations, to manage the projects. So we will always have a local partner that we work with. And training and capacity building is a very important part of our approach to project design and implementation. But if our models can be adopted by governments and they see that these solutions are actually working and they can be scaled then I think that we will have really accomplished something significant.
MILES BENSON
Do you see a day coming, perhaps not too far off, when solar power will provide most of our energy needs?
ROBERT FRELING
Within the next few years it is predicted that solar will achieve what is referred to as "grid parity," where it becomes as cheap to use solar for grid electricity than conventional fossil fuels. It's an opportunity for us now to take the lead in bringing advanced energy technologies to the developing world because at the end of the day creating a world that works for everybody, bringing social justice to the parts of the world that have been so lacking in resources and opportunity, that will go a long way, in my opinion, to making the world safe and secure for everybody.
MILES BENSON
Bob Freling, thank you very much.
ROBERT FRELING
My pleasure Miles.
TITLES
[end credits]