How can solar energy contribute to sustainable development?

The provision of solar energy is certainly not the only prerequisite for sustainable development; however, expansion of energy supply will be essential to improve the living conditions in rural areas of the developing world. An interesting example of how solar energy can improve living conditions of entire villages contributes can be found in Cuba.

Through a comprehensive rural electrification program, which began shortly after the Cuban revolution in 1959, the proportion of households supplied with electricity in rural areas rose from 4% (1960) to 79% (1992). Since further expansion of the electricity network is very expensive, currently around 500,000 households in remote mountain areas are not electrified. Despite these challenges, the Cuban government put forward an ambitious program to also to electrify remote villages.

In the first phase of this program all health stations in remote and mountainous areas were equipped with solar power systems. Such health centers in small villages are typically staffed by a doctor and a nurse. This arrangement plays an important role in the national health system and is one of the reasons that Cuba's health sector is an exemplary case for Latin American. The 400 Watt solar power system supplies a refrigerator for medication and a small television. The solar system provides adequate light in the health station, which is important because the centers also serve as the social center of the village. By the summer of 2002, 320 health stations were successfully electrified.

In a second stage, schools in remote villages were also equipped with solar energy systems. In total, 1,900 school rooftops were installed with a 165 Watt module, which provides enough light to illuminate the classroom and to operate a color TV and a VCR. The system cost per school was 1,480 U.S. dollars. People on-site were trained for the maintenance of the solar array, battery and devices. The solar electrification program for the schools was completed in 2002. In the third phase, which began in 2003, the aim was to provide all houses with electricity. The systems installed across Cuban residential homes are mostly solar home systems, which include modules produced in Cuba. In addition to solar systems, the electrification program pursued wind, water and biomass electrification options where these resources were conveniently available; and the government also exampled the development of island networks.

These results are from a project for the Federal Ministry for the Environment in which Office Ö-quadrat was involved.

International Solar Energy Society, 2002: Sustainable Energy Policy Concepts ( SEPCO ). Study for the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Freiburg 2002.

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