Is Access to Energy a Human Right?

Just imagine taking your sick son or daughter to the hospital after dark and having the doctor examine the child by candlelight. Or walking 10 miles to the hospital for treatment after being bitten by a rabid dog and discovering that the vaccination you need is located an additional 100 miles away in a facility that can stock it because it has refrigerators.

That was the situation at the Village Health Works clinic in Burundi, where the sick often lay suffering in the dark and frustrated doctors had to consider the cost of running the diesel generator before turning it on in order to supply oxygen to a dying patient. “All of those discussions that you never want to have as a doctor,” said to Dr. Sri Shamsuner, a visiting physician from the University of California.

Then SELF stepped in.

The organization, with the help of partners, volunteers and supporters, installed a 10 kW solar array and battery bank to provide power to Village Health Works.  The clinic is now able to use electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, running its generators only when absolutely necessary.  Doctors and staff now utilize modern medical tools like EKG machines and ultrasound equipment.  They can also access the internet to help with diagnostics and learn about innovative treatments for disease.

The video below shows SELF’s work in this country. When you watch it consider whether you believe that energy is a human right.  Then consider the billions of people in developing nations for whom energy is a luxury that they must live without.  Finally, consider that it’s not really about the energy at all, but about the services that it provides.  “We’re essentially using solar power as an enabling technology to kickstart improvements in health, education and economic well-being for whole villages,” said Bob Freling, Executive Director of SELF.

And if this Thanksgiving holiday weekend in which Americans count their blessings with friends and family, inspires you to give thanks, you can go to SELF’s website and thank them for their efforts.

Incidentally, the video also features Walt Ratterman who died in the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010.  Ratterman was in Haiti to install solar panels on a health care facility in that country.  You can read tributes to Walt Ratterman here and here and listen to Stephen Lacey’s podcast remembrance of him here.


Want more video on this topic?  Former contributor Yotam Arial posted a video blog in which he shows how bringing solar energy to the 1.4 billion people who currently live in the dark is a business opportunity that should not be overlooked.  Watch it at Solar Energy Not Just for the Rich.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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