The rise of solar lighting

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When I returned to Uganda last year, after a two-year hiatus, I instantly noticed the increased usage of solar panels. During my field visits, I took an interest in gaining an understanding into the use of different lighting sources including solar powered lighting systems.

In one of these field visits early this year, I met Nekesa Mariam, a FEDU study participant in Tororo district. She shared her experience using a simple solar system to light her home.

The shift to solar energy

Nekesa Mariam had been using a combination of simple kerosene wick lamps locally known as ‘tadoba’, wax candles and lithium batteries as sources of light for her home.

This was until she met a solar sales agent, who informed her about the benefits of using solar lighting systems. She was swayed and felt it was something worth buying. The system was being sold at UGX140’000 (approx. $40). In order for her to make the purchase, Nekesa sold one of her goats. Her small solar system has both lighting and phone charging capabilities, providing sufficient light for her house each day.

Savings on energy related expenses

Nekesa says she was determined to buy the solar device because it provided her an opportunity to reduce lighting expenses. Purchase of paraffin, candles and batteries took up a sizeable proportion of her household budget, with costs totaling up to UGX 20’000 each month. In addition to those expenses, she was spending UGX 500 per phone charging session at a local barber shop. With the solar system, she no longer incurs these expenses. For Nekesa every penny is vital and savings can go towards meeting other household expenses.

“I bought the system at 140.000. Though it was initially expensive, I do not regret the decision as I feel almost all the money has been recouped. Now I no longer spend any money to buy paraffin or even charge phones”- Nekesa Mariam

Nekesa Miriam in front of her house
Nekesa Miriam in front of her house

A cleaner house

Another benefit that came along with the solar system installation is that Nekesa no longer has to worry about soot. The simple kerosene wick lamps she previously used polluted the air in the house and darkened household items, especially clothes.

I was told that the soot produced by the kerosene lantern is harmful to one’s health” – Nekesa

Going forward, Nekesa hopes to save and buy a more powerful solar system, sufficient to power additional electrical appliances such as a radios and more bulbs, especially for external lighting.

By Yesho Simon
Research intern