through the lens
energy access stories of solar home system users in rwanda 2017
Off-grid solar energy has gained prominence and attracted a lot of attention among those working towards ensuring universal energy access worldwide, especially in the last 5 years. Due to technology developments, prices have fallen sharply and systems supporting basic appliances, such as lights, mobile phone charging, radios, TVs, shavers etc. have become more affordable than ever before. Along with the spread of mobile money and Pay as You Go (PAYG) modes of payment where households are able to pay off their systems over a period of a few years in monthly or daily installments, Solar Home Systems have emerged as viable options for electrifying off-grid households. They offer biggest advantage in rural areas where grid extensions are unreliable or costly and difficult, with weak prospects of coming for another decade or more.
To date, millions of households globally have gained access to energy through such systems, with the number of off-grid solar manufacturers increasing sevenfold in the last five years and the number of sold SHSs growing month on month across East Africa and beyond.
There are numerous ways in which households are impacted after adopting a solar system: improved health due to elimination of smoke from kerosene lamps or candles; extended hours of light in the evening which translate into longer productive hours; savings due to lower payments as compared to previous expenditure on kerosene, candles or batteries for torches, or simply the facilitation of saving behaviours dictated by the need to ensure that monthly or daily payments are settled on time; and many more.
However, there are very few ways in which rural communities’ voices on gaining access to basic services such as energy can be heard. This project allows to bridge that gap by bringing those voices closer to the wider public.
20 households from 4 provinces of Rwanda have engaged in energy mapping discussions and participatory photography, sharing their stories of getting access to energy, energy needs and aspirations, and what energy access means to them, whether they live off the grid in remote, rural areas, or closer to the existing infrastructure.
Each photo tells a story and each story reveals a different aspect of energy access realities in a country where over 70% of the population still live off the grid. The key contribution of these stories is to stress the importance of providing energy services to everyone, everywhere.
See the 15 photos which have been displayed at exhibitions in Kigali (May 2017) and in London (June 2017). They were mostly taken by the users of Solar Home Systems or, in a couple of instances, participants specifically asked to have a photo of them taken.
Listen to the stories as told by the users of Solar Home Systems. They are snippets of energy mapping discussions which touched on questions of the importance of energy access, energy needs and aspirations, and the impacts access to energy has made on participants' lives.
Here, you can see photos and a video which give a sneak peak of what doing this project with the users of Solar Home Systems was like.