The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan has an ambitious solar energy plan to electrify over 5,800 homes in 200 different villages. The plan is part of a government-backed project called the Green Growth Initiative, founded by Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan. The government will pay 90% of the cost of installation of rooftop solar panels with householders paying only 10%.
Families will receive a complete electrification package consisting of a 200-watt solar panel, batteries and other accessories to run two fans and three LED lights. Crucially households will also receive two mobile phone charging slots, a true Cleanleap necessity for villages that have no access to telephone landlines - and perhaps never will.
The World Bank reports that 44% of Pakistan households are not connected to an electrical grid and instead rely on kerosene lamps and candles for lighting. Mobile phones are a crucial communication lifeline and without access to electricity villages may be cut-off from the outside world.
There has been some resistance to electrification plan, with a major opposition party in the region stating that the money would be better spent upgrading existing grid systems to serve more people. This is a debate that is being argued in many places around the world. Is it better to empower individuals to manage their own off-grid energy sources, or to bring a majority of people onto an existing standard electrical grid which may itself be powered by renewable sources?
Developed countries too are facing the same debate, as traditional power companies balk at an increasing number of consumers who are going off-grid completely or partially and seeking to sell their excess power back to the energy companies.
In a country like Pakistan that faces blackouts lasting 4 hours a day in rural areas that are connected to the grid, the answer seems obvious– the traditional centralised energy system is failing rural communities, can off-grid be any worse?