As the sun sets and darkness falls over a village outside Bahawalpur, Shama Bibi switches on her solar lantern and starts sewing clothes for an upcoming family wedding. Bibi has recently become a “Light Lady”, one of the women that the Buksh Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Lahore, has trained to help spread the benefits of solar energy throughout rural Pakistan. Under the foundation’s project Lighting a Million Lives, in collaboration with The Energy and Resources Institute in India, women are taught how to operate and maintain solar charging stations in their homes.
The two “Light Ladies” in each of the focus villages also are given 50 solar lanterns to rent to others in their community. The one-time cost of around $5,500 to set up a solar charging station and set of lanterns is funded by donors. Bibi says she charges a daily rent of 4 rupees ($0.04) per lantern and earns around 5,500 rupees ($54) each month.
The foundation has so far installed solar charging stations in 150 off-grid villages around the country and plans to reach 4,000 villages by 2017.
Pakistan faces a year-round electricity shortfall that hits around 7,000 megawatts in the summer. The country’s rural areas often suffer blackouts of more than 14 hours a day while urban areas can experience up to 10 hours a day without power. Qamar-uz-Zaman, a climate change advisor to the sustainable development organisation LEAD-Pakistan, said Pakistan’s energy shortages could be reduced substantially if the government would provide technical and financial assistance for sustainable development initiatives such as Lighting a Million Lives.