Rural Perceptions of Solar Power

Although our first solar installation in rural Tanzania has been having overwhelmingly positive reviews by the local community (powering the local water borehole, the first fridge in the local shop, and a small, efficient, electric milling-machine) we still have a hard time explaining the concept of solar power to some of our other target communities. They struggle to understand how it could create enough power to compete with a diesel generator, as their only experience of solar is from small solar-home systems with a single panel producing a light that is too weak to do anything productive (a lot of the communities were sold solar-home systems in the past, but not taught how to care for the equipment, and the batteries have all died).

We’ve recently found that the only way to really illustrate what we mean, is to actually take the village leaders to our existing installation and show them in person what a solar array looks like, how big it is, and how much it is powering. As soon as we do this, they are immediately won over, amazed by the concept of ‘silent’ power (generators are notoriously noisy) and desperate to follow our instructions to get a system installed for themselves. We’ve even had villagers from further away who happen to have passed by our solar installation, that are so impressed they came to seek us out in person, with our partner organisation OMASI, asking how they can get their own solar system!

One issue with the silent power generation is that people sometimes find it hard to believe the power being generated could possibly be the same as the noisy generators that they are used to. At one borehole, after we’d installed a solar system to replace the diesel genset, there were complaints that the pump was running slower now that it was using solar power. This made no sense as we’d specifically oversized the solar array to ensure the pump would run as effectively, if not better, than it had prior to our intervention. But, determined to verify this, we ran some flow tests, with our solar array, and hooking back up the old diesel genset. As expected, no difference in performance other than the noise levels! But this really shows that challenging people’s perceptions can be difficult, and can result in dissatisfaction with an improved service!

Getting a new community fully onboard with the concept of a new technology is vital in order for them to fully appreciate its benefits and continue to use it effectively.

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