Jeff Lahl, Solar Electric Light Fund
Thursday, 5 Jun 2003
Today, we finally began installing our PV systems at Wawan-Rafi. The day began by walking around with the village chief to find out where people wanted the 10 solar street lights that we are providing. After a water pump and power for the clinic, street lights were the most requested item during our pre-installation meetings. Nigerians are night people, and are pedestrian people. The market stalls stay open late, and everyone ambles around in the cooler night air, trading and socializing. But the only light at the market, and in peoples’ homes, comes from kerosene lamps which, in addition to being both a health and a fire hazard, do not produce much light.
In other developments, the builders are almost done with Wawan-Rafi’s micro-enterprise building — one of two systems intended to assist commerce in the village. Wawan-Rafi, like most villages in northern Nigeria, has numerous very small businesses such as barbers, tailors, radio repair, and small shops selling food and staples such as matches and kerosene. Most of these businesses use small amounts of electricity for lights, sewing machines, etc., and this electricity is provided by small but expensive fuel-burning generators, which drone on like oversized smoking insects, disturbing the otherwise peaceful village.
After extensive talks with village businesses, we decided to create a small central power platform with the flexibility to provide solar-generated electricity for six to ten businesses. By sharing the facilities grouped under one roof, we save the cost of installing individual PV systems for each business, thus allowing us to provide service to more people and electricity to even the smallest shop owner, who normally could not afford either a PV system or a generator.
Besides the electrical benefits for its users, the micro-enterprise system creates a commercial and social center for the village. Unlike our other systems, which are small, individual PV systems, the larger micro-enterprise solar array makes a strong statement about the value of solar energy for the village.
The Wawan-Rafi micro-enterprise system will be unique among the three village projects in that it is oversized to power a small peanut oil expeller, which we are also providing as part of this project. Groundnut (peanut) oil is the main cooking oil used in this part of the world, and its production is often a women’s industry. Oil production is an extremely labor-intensive process in which nuts are shelled, dried in the sun, and then taken to the village diesel-powered grinder where they are reduced to small particles for a fee. Then the real work begins, as women mix the groundnuts with water in a large tub where they are stirred by hand for hours until the oil separates from the water and can be skimmed off the top, bottled, and taken to the market for sale.
With the new PV-powered expeller, the nuts just need to be shelled and dried before being put whole into the expeller — eliminating both the grinding and the hand-stirring operations.
We expect that the expeller will save labor and free up the women’s time for other activities. The amount of increase in both production and income will be determined over time.
Many of the community service aspects of this project (clinics, schools, etc.) will benefit all residents of the village. However, the oil expeller is the one application designed specifically to empower women, so we have high hopes for its success.