SEIA BLOG (Nat Kreamer) — Contrary to Bjorn Lomborg’s catchy headline “This Child Does Not Need a Solar Panel,” solar panels are exactly the kind of investment that developing countries need to help lift their populations out of poverty and thwart disease.
Eighty years ago, rural electrification of today’s developed countries helped improve their standard of living. In the United States, rural electric cooperatives, championed by Leland Olds, public power authorities, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, and private corporations, such as Duke Energy, helped communities use power to increase their productivity, grow their wealth, and improve their health.
Developing countries need affordable electricity, too, to solve their food, water and health problems. As The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow vividly depicts, without irrigation systems, food insecurity in poor countries creates a cycle of famine and poverty that leaves 1 billion people chronically hungry.
As WSJ readers know, recent severe droughts in Africa have exacerbated this problem and helped to spark wars on the continent. Furthermore, the United Nations estimates that nearly 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and spend hours each day hauling dirty water to their homes.
Lives lost to water-borne disease and productive labor hours lost to water transportation take a high economic toll on nations that can ill-afford it. Investing in solar-powered water pumping systems, like those manufactured by Kyocera, is a proven, fast, cost-effective way to consistently irrigate cropland and extract clean well water, which improves food, water, and health security.
Additionally, affordable solar panels can help developing countries improve education, which enhances political enfranchisement and drives economic growth. Today, approximately 2 billion people live without electric light at home, reducing the amount of available reading hours.
Companies such as d.light are solving this with solar power now. More than 50 million people are using their affordable, battery-connected solar-powered lights to light their homes. Among them are 14 million children now reading at night using energy from the sun.
Solar power provides energy solutions for developing nations without incurring additional infrastructure or environmental cost. Unlike most other forms of power generation, solar power scales up and down easily. You can use one cell, a panel of cells, or ten panels at home without investing in grid infrastructure.
This is incredibly important because developing nations lack the power grids necessary to support most other electric generation technologies. Investing in fossil-based power not only requires a robust grid but also aggravates existing environmental problems.
Locally, fossil-based power generation evaporates a lot of freshwater that gets blown away by the wind. For example, 42 percent of U.S. drinking water is evaporated when generating power from fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If Lomborg is concerned about global health, water and food, then he should prioritize investments with minimal environmental impact, like solar. The United Nations and the Pentagon have both recognized that climate change-induced environmental disasters (e.g. floods, desertification) will have a horrifying impact on all the issues Lomborg raises.
Investing in another solar panel will improve water, food, economic and health security in developing nations and climate security globally.
About the Solar Energy Industries Association
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA®) is the driving force behind solar energy and is building a strong solar industry to power America through advocacy and education. As the national trade association in the U.S., we represent all organizations that promote, manufacture, install and support the development of solar energy.
SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to champion the use of clean, affordable solar in America by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy.
Our member companies consist of installers, project developers, manufacturers, contractors, financiers and non-profits, all of whom see the benefit in joining SEIA and working collectively toward a clean future. Together, we hope to continue the already impressive growth of solar across the United States.