“DUSK is here, I need my lights on.”
The voice was frail and soft. No one was nearby to hear the delicate call.
She could not raise her voice no-more.
Ellen was in her late 60s and current technology was obviously new for an old lady.
Ellen had been using a wee solar panel set to light her home for almost a year now.
Neightbours had been helping her every evening to set up her charged solar panel battery to drive her lights.
She knew nothing about setting up the equipment, but the thing that forces her to detour from using the regularly used kerosene lantern was she had not spent a cent on kerosene in the past year.
I was sitting on a front porch and heard the flimsy call for attention.
I noticed that the old lady needed help. I was a visitor to this village in West Kwaio, Malaita, but knew I could be of an aid.
I walked over and there she was touching the battery and connections – an attempt to figure out where to link the lighting cables to the dry cell.
“Son, will you be able to help me get my lights on?” she asked fervently.
“I return from my food garden a bit late and need my lights so that I can cook something to eat.”
I moved over to investigate, and told her I can do it.
“And who are you anyway?” she asked keenly as she leaned closer to take a good look at me.
I introduced myself as I kept myself busy setting up the solar battery and light connections.
The lights came on and there was a smile on her face. She has no tooth but can pronounce fine.
“Is there anything else I can do before I could leave you to it?” I asked calmly.
She nodded her head and said, “that’s about it son. I always get these boys to do this for me every evening.
“There was one evening I can remember I did it by myself but I cannot remember how I managed to do it.”
She thought for a while and said, “oh but I did that successfully with the guidance of a young child. He must be still around. I was hoping he could come around again but it’s good you come.”
We chatted for a while but seeing she needed concentration with her cooking, I excused and told her I am leaving her because she no longer needed any help from me.
I returned and kept thinking about why an old lady could be so into using a new technology instead of a simple lantern but knowing well saving cost was one major factor.
I thought further and lifted my head to look around as darkness covered the village.
There, the whole village was lit up with solar energy lights. Every household uses solar energy.
I spoke to some villagers the next day about the use of solar energy and they admitted that it really saved people from spending on kerosene.
The solar boom started a few years ago, according to one villager.
It started with one or two households and with the help of the Republic of China/Taiwan’s distribution of solar panels through Members of Parliament, almost all households now uses solar energy.
Some household that bought their own larger solar sets from shops can also enjoy everything that a city household can enjoy such as fridges, video screens, and other stuff that uses electricity.
One villager said he used to buy a few liters of kerosene every week. Now that he uses solar energy, there is no more cost on lighting.
I took a long ride on a pick-up truck a few days later to Auki.
I was sitting at the back as that is the normal ride for people in the villages. It was a long ride from Buma in West Kwaio down to Auki, Malaita’s provincial headquarters.
I wanted to see if other villages also engage in solar energy usage.
It was a surprise to see all houses visible from the back of the pick-up truck, have solar panels mounted on their roofs.
Regardless of a permanent, semi permanent or a thatched house, they all have solar panels.
I wanted to hear it from another villager so I asked a person sitting next to me.
“Looks like all these villages use solar energy.”
The man agreed unreservedly, saying all households along the southern Malaita road use solar energy.
It doesn’t cost anybody a cent anymore compared to when people used kerosene lamps.
“Cheap and clean, isn’t it? I commented. He agreed.
Kerosene had been and remains an essential fuel for lighting in many poor rural homes in the Solomon Islands.
Children in these homes use kerosene lamps/lanterns to study at night. It is also an important source of light for all manner of night time domestic chores and other activities.
Kerosene under petroleum is often unstable in terms of price which affects rural people with their little income. Kerosene supply to rural areas for lighting has been erratic as well in the past as a result of supply shortages and price volatility.
This phenomenon initially led to rural households resorting to the use of dry cell battery operated lanterns before solar panels flooded the villages.
Even though the battery operated lanterns are associated with regular replacement of batteries and charging costs, they still remain a cheaper option for most rural households.
And underscoring the significance of kerosene to the social wellbeing of rural households, ROC/Taiwan therefore initiated and supply solar panels and sets through MPs, to bring the product within the reach of the poor and the vulnerable rural households.
The use of solar lanterns is environmentally friendly as they do not emit hazardous smoke or carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, minimal battery replacement which is very safe for human health and environment.
It is against this background that solar energy is encouraged as a viable alternative to replace kerosene lanterns as the main source of lighting in poor and vulnerable rural communities.
By EDNAL PALMER