Hanging out of the window of a 4×4 as we rumble along a rutted dirt track at dawn, scattering baboons back into the bush as we pass. It’s hard to hang on to the the brand new Sony PMW-200 camera as I try to viscerally capture the problems of logistics in rural Africa.
I am making a film about one of this year’s Ashden Awards finalists, a charity called Solar Aid, which has found a way to deliver cheap, safe and clean lighting to African customers. In the back of the 4×4 are Ashden’s Anne Wheldon and Solar Aid’s Steve Andrews. in the car behind ours is one of the sales teams with a thousand low-cost solar lamps lashed to the roof and piled high inside the back.
It’s the first time we have filmed on location as the Ashden assessors are making their visits, incorporating the Ashden fact-finding trip into each of the films. I know some of the assessors were sceptical and feared we would be at cross purposes. We promised them we could make it work without impacting on the assessment process and its a test of just how observational film making can be.
The reason was to make films with a different slant to the usual ones and get more into the uniqueness of the individual finalist and what they are doing to tackle the specific problems of scaling up sustainable technology.
Cost effective and safe lighting in rural Africa is a problem that should be solved by solar lamps. But the problem hasn’t been solved at all. Its estimated by that only around 1 percent of Africans without access to grid electricity have solar lights, despite them being cheaper than kerosene, the common alternative. Why?
A Tanzanian head teacher tells us the nearest town where he can buy solar lighting is over 100 kilometres away. There are only dirt roads and the most affluent people who live in Nzera might have access to a 125cc motorbike. That means at least 8 US Dollars for the lamp and a lot more in time and travel expenses to get it.
Steve Andrews is the CEO of charity Solar Aid. It’s wholly-owned subsidiary Sunny Money is breaking the distribution barrier, by using the network of schools and head teachers to reach families in deep rural communities across East Africa. The model has made Sunny Money the largest supplier of solar lamps in Africa and taken them from sales of around 200 lamps per month to over 45,000.