Illuminating the power of energy access

February 14, 2012

At Renewable World we are all too aware of the challenge of energy poverty, but if there was ever a powerful and emotive visual arena to raise its awareness to a broader audience, then Peter DiCampo’s ‘Life Without Lights’ photographic display for the Ashden Awards at The Strand Gallery was a fitting scene.

Descending into the Gallery basement, the viewer is plunged into darkness, and it is only through the aid of a solar powered torch that the photographs become visible; a luxury which is often not available to many of the world’s poorest. DiCampo’s inspiration stemmed from his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in the rural village of Voggu in Northern Ghana, where he saw first-hand the challenges of coping without a reliable source of electricity.

“Whenever they post teachers in our schools, the teachers don’t want to stay in our community simply because we don’t have electricity. And the schoolchildren can’t study at night without lights so they just sleep.”

This was just one account of many at the gallery highlighting the difficulties of not having access to modern energy sources. Among the more powerful images, most of which are shot under torchlight, are children reading and eating in near darkness, a Headteacher marking school papers, and even a surgical team performing a C-section during a power cut. The gallery also focuses on the impact that a lack of electricity and lighting poses to the local economy, particularly in decreasing efficiency and stifling enterprise.

However, the Gallery does not dwell on the negative aspects of energy poverty, and seeks inspiration in the many solutions that are available to communities in rural villages like Voggu. Returning to the light of the ground floor, viewers are greeted with the optimism necessary if energy access is to become universal within the next two decades.

“When we didn’t have electricity, everywhere was silent and monotonous. When light came to our village it changed our way of life. Now there’s much more happiness.”

Access to energy is incredibly transformational, with triple-bottom-line social, economic and environmental benefits. A clean and reliable source of electricity leads to improvements in health, education and agriculture, whilst reducing the dependency on expensive and polluting fossil fuels. Furthermore, electricity can be the catalyst for the growth of microbusiness, unlocking entrepreneurial spirit and talent to stimulate market activity and provide alternative forms of income for some of the world’s poorest.

From solar PV cells, to small-scale hydro-electric schemes, and efficient biogas cookers, the Gallery made it evident that solutions are available; only support and awareness appear to be the lacking ingredients.

At Renewable World we have made great strides to change this, and our programmes in East Africa, South Asia, and Central America, some of which are working with previous Ashden Award winners, are testament to the transformational impact modern energy access can have on communities. Indeed, there is significant encouragement that during the UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and with the increased awareness brought through initiatives like DiCampo’s photographic display, that 2012 will be a memorable year in the fight against energy poverty.

Peter DiCampo’s photo exhibition ‘Life without lights’ in conjunction with the Ashden Awards ran at the Stand Gallery from 6-12th February. Click here for more information about the Ashden Awards.