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May 10, 2011

Senegalese Villages Turn to Solar Power

In Senegal, growing electricity shortages are forcing more and more people to turn to one of the country's greatest renewable resources, solar energy.


There are no power lines running through the village of Langueme, in the Factik region of Senegal.  Like many rural areas here, people here are not connected to the national electricity grid.  But, after years of waiting for power, the local government has turned to renewable energy, installing eight solar panels to power outside lights.

Village chief Hokhane Ndong says people are no longer afraid to go out at night.

Ndong says robbers who used to come during the night to steal from the village are not coming any more because there is light.

Ndong says before the village had light, older people would not leave their houses or send their children out after dark because they were afraid of being bitten by snakes.

Now, Ndong says family gatherings such as baptisms, weddings and religious rituals no longer stop after sundown.  And, students who used to spend hours crouched beneath the flicker of a candle or flashlight now easily complete their studies.

Solar power in Langueme is part of a renewable energy project sponsored by the French region of Poitou Charente. Modou Diop is the project's business manager.

Diop says electricity problems in Senegal can be solved by solar energy.  With a brief rainy season, Senegal has nearly nine months of uninterrupted sunshine every year.  So Diop says solar power is the country's most reliable and easily-accessible source of energy.

That is why Fatick's regional government partnered with Poitou Charente in 2008 to develop a renewable energy project in Senegal to give light to villages such as Langueme.

Senegal is struggling to keep pace with rising fuel costs and growing demands for electricity which have led to major blackouts, countrywide.  It is forcing some people to rethink the nation's future energy plans.

Mamadou Toure is Fatick's regional environmentalist. Toure says that, for many years, the Fatick region has had regular power cuts and people have not been able to work. But, Toure says after installing small solar units to keep computer and phone lines connected, many people can continue working.  He says local businesses are turning to solar power as a backup and some are even relying on it as a main source of energy.

Toure says the project aims to install solar panels in villages that are unlikely to have electricity 10 years from now.

Langueme chief Ndong says solar power illuminates health posts and allows people to charge their cell phones.

Ndong says solar light improves education in the village and makes life safer for everyone, because children used to study by kerosene lanterns that could catch huts on fire.  Now they can study safely during the night.  Ndong says it has really improved their lives.

Charging phones, illuminating health posts, fighting off snakes and thieves, could solar energy be the future for Senegal?   Project Manager Diop says with the constant evolution in technology, solar units will become less expensive.

Diop says the future of solar power in Senegal is political, because there is no competition for the national electricity provider, Senelec.  With all the problems of power cuts, he says a gradual push towards solar power should make it a long-lasting contributor to the country's energy needs.