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FAO: POTENTIAL OF SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEMS IN RURAL AREAS OFTEN STILL UNTAPPED


Rome, 23 October - Selective use of solar energy could significantly improve the livelihood of millions of people in rural areas in developing countries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a new report issued today, entitled Solar Photovoltaics for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development.

Solar photovoltaic technology is currently mainly used for lighting, radio and television in households, FAO said. But it went on:

"The time is ripe now to advance towards a new phase of solar energy beyond the light bulb. We should not only use solar systems for household lighting, but also for pumping drinking water, irrigation, cattle watering, small cottage and agro-industries, facilitating educational radio and tv programmes and health services."

Almost two billion people in developing countries are still without access to electricity. Their energy problems will not be resolved by solar home electrification alone, FAO said. "It is realized that the most disadvantaged, subsistence farmers will generally not be able to afford solar systems. Solar systems do, however, provide some particular advantages that make them interesting for basic social services such as water supply and vaccine refrigeration, as well as for several niche-applications. With lower prices, the size and number of niches will grow," FAO said.

The report cites many examples of growing solar energy application in agriculture. Solar pumping is suitable for drip irrigation of horticultural and other high value crops. Solar systems are also often the most economic solutions to supply water for people and their livestock in remote, unelectrified areas. Water pumping is one of the major rural photovoltaic markets in developing countries while solar electric powered fences are also widely sold.

Small solar systems also help develop other productive activities in many countries, such as restaurants, bars, cinemas, telephone shops, technical and artisanal workshops by providing light and powering small tools such as drills, blenders, mobile phones and television sets. Installing and maintaining solar systems and selling photovoltaic electricity helps to create jobs in rural areas.

However, the introduction of photovoltaics still faces several barriers such as high investment costs, lack of financing and infrastructure, low volumes of sales, lack of political commitment and policies, FAO said. Innovative financial schemes such as revolving funds, soft loans to farmer cooperatives and equipment leasing arrangements are opening new opportunities for the application of solar technologies.

FAO called upon governments to promote solar systems in rural areas. Rural and agricultural development banks should make such systems eligible for loans. Women should have equal access to credit. Private sector investments should be attracted for financing solar energy electrification programmes. International donor funds could be used as a leverage for such private sector investments.

Integrated photovoltaic electrification programmes should simultaneously address electricity needs in different sectors of rural society by offering solar systems for drinking water, irrigation, health care, education and communication. The energy, agriculture, education and health sector should work closer together to ensure that solar systems are used for delivering these basic needs and services to the rural poor. Such an integrated approach could also help to promote solar technology, improve maintenance and servicing infrastructure and create sustainable markets. Moreover, solar energy systems would also serve the environment and concerns about climate change.

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The report is available on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/sd/egdirect/EGre0057.htm (English version) and http://www.fao.org/sd/spdirect/EGre0057.htm (Spanish).

For more information please contact: Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel: 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail: erwin.northoff@fao.org

Audio-clip

In a report issued today FAO calls for a new phase of "solar energy beyond the light bulb."

Gustavo Best, FAO Senior Energy Coordinator, highlights in an interview with Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, the potential of solar energy in rural areas (3min17sec).

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