Each heater can hold as much as 400 liters of hot water, enough for hand-washing and hot meals on even a cloudy day when the sunlight is not strong. And then there's harnessing the sunlight for use at night with the LED solar home-lighting systems handed out to 200 local households.
The vision is to eventually install solar hot water heaters and LED solar home-lighting systems in the same community, as is being done throughout iLembe District. With lights, the Aldinville students can study at night or their mothers can supplement income with such businesses as mobile phone charging from the photovoltaic panels. Multiple forms of new economic development become possible.
That opportunity will be vital because simply providing modern energy—in whatever form—to the poor is not a panacea. "Energy services are often not affordable for the rural and urban poor and, on their own, have little impact," said Martin Krause, leader of UNDP's Asia–Pacific regional climate, environment and energy team, in a statement releasing a report calling for an "Energy Plus" approach, which pairs the delivery of modern energy with measures to generate cash income. "The poor need support to generate income so that energy becomes affordable."
It's not just the poor. For any such sustainable energy efforts to thrive, money will be needed—along with a better understanding of specific communities' energy needs. For example, it may not make sense to build wind farms in Kenya given the fact that most households lack any connection to the electric grid. It may make more sense to set up village-size grids connected to cheap solar panels or mini-hydropower technologies. And cleaner cookstoves may employ technology improvements, but at the hazard of quickly being tossed aside when they cannot be maintained locally at low cost. Finding new sources for the money to make this possible—ideas range from carbon credits to microfinance—remain a key focus of international climate negotiations like those just held in Durban as well as for the Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
Nevertheless, the potential benefits of bringing modern energy to the rest of the world—health improvements, economic development and even environmental remediation—cannot be overlooked. "What a difference bringing energy to our homes means," UNDP Administrator Clark noted at the Zuma rally. "Something like this [project] brings hope and light and heat to not only homes here but right across this great continent of Africa."