Residents in Kidal in northern Mali are finding it easier to work and study into the night thanks to a solar lighting project recently introduced to the area.
About 1,500 households are now able to switch on their lights thanks to a 50,000 US dollar project funded by the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The government has been trying to promote renewable energy technologies since 2007, hoping they will reach 15 percent of the total national energy supply by 2020.
“The families that have benefited from these kits are very happy, not only because they have left the darkness behind, but it has also helped people in many ways, especially in families where there are children, the kits have allowed children to study in the evenings and women to continue their activities at night,” said Assikaday Ag Wayerzagane, a chief in Kidal.
Mali’s government has not had a military presence in Kidal since clashes between the army and Tuareg rebels killed 50 soldiers there in 2014, making access to services like electricity difficult.
Mali, a landlocked desert nation and an important gold exporter, has suffered from endemic corruption and instability over the years, and more lately from multiple insurrections by Islamist groups in the north, as well as infighting between armed factions.
Most of the country’s electricity supply is produced by a shared dam on the River Senegal in Mali, which also provides power to three neighboring countries, including Mauritania and Senegal.
The country remains one of the world’s poorest nations, with around half its population living on less than $1.25 a day, according to U.N. data.
That means most families cannot afford a solar energy kit - including solar panels, batteries and lights - which can cost as much as $1,000 upfront.
Local NGO AFORD or Association for Training, Research and Development, was selected to implement the 6-month long lighting project. Mohamed Aly Ag Albessaty, is the organization’s president.
“This project has distributed solar kits to populations in need to allow people to light their homes and it allows children to study at home now that they get electricity service in Kidal,” he said.
Many Malians complain about regular power cuts or live in remote parts that are not on the national grid.
National energy company, Energie du Mali (EDM) has begun to add solar power capacity to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which provide around half the West African nation’s power.
Aicha Abdoulaye a Kidal resident says solar lighting has also helped improve security in the area and improved their lives.
“We use it to charge our mobile telephones, before it was so difficult to charge our telephones. At night, we can also light up to see what we are doing until we go to sleep,” she said.
The government says the country is building two large-scale solar power plants to feed into the national grid, including one in the central region of Ségou which is slated to be West Africa’s first utility-scale solar plant, with a planned capacity of 33 megawatts able to cover 5 percent of Mali’s electricity needs.