Google funds $650,000 SolarAid study in Africa

International development charity SolarAid has announced this week that Google has funded a $650,000, two-year study into the impact of solar lights on poverty alleviation in Africa.

The global search engine giants have taken a keen interest in the solar energy sector in recent years, and this latest commitment is a follow-up to last year’s Google Global Impact Award – which was won by SolarAid for its commitment to using technology to help make the world a better place.

The charity has been installing its pico-solar lights in various parts of rural Africa to deliver a clean and safe alternative to traditional kerosene lamps. The lights have been able to extend many villagers’ working day and to improve and lengthen studying conditions for young Africans. The lights also reduce the indoor air pollution caused by burning kerosene and other polluting fuels, and have enabled many families to save a larger proportion of their household income.

The two-year Randomized Control Trial study (RCT) is intended to assess just how powerful this initiative has been in alleviating poverty in some of the poorest parts of Africa. SolarAid’s social enterprise SunnyMoney is the largest distributor of solar lights in Africa, and will be aided in its wor over the next few years by SolarAid’s director of research and impact, Kat Harrison.

"We’ve now got a great deal of quality data that helps showcase the impact of our work but, despite being such an important field, there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there on the links between solar lighting and poverty alleviation," said Kat. "This hinders our, and the sector’s, ability to advise on policy, make recommendations to governments and to fully explain just what an impact a pico-solar light can have."

The Google-funded RCT will be the first large-scale research project for pico-soalr lights of its kind, and will provide invaluable information for SolarAid and the wider off-grid solar lighting sector.

The director of Google.org, Jacqueline Fuller, explained why Google has given its financial backing to the study: "Research is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against poverty," she said. "SolarAid has committed to rigorously assessing their programs and openly sharing their findings – and not just the rosy ones – to make sure they’re making a big impact in people’s lives. We’re excited to further support their mission."

Updates on how the research program is progressing will be shared via both SolarAid and Google over the coming months. "We’re excited to embark on this study and have a real commitment to keeping people engaged and updated along the journey, as that’s the best way to raise awareness of the work and encourage interaction with the process," added Kat.