Africa starts to tap solar energy for IT

Solar energy will benefit schools, rural societies in need of Internet and computer access

Governments and development organizations in Eastern and Southern Africa are starting to adopt solar energy to bolster energy resources for ICT (information and communication technology) in rural areas.

Solar energy will have a positive impact on rural societies by enabling people to access computers and the Internet, said Paul Zambezi, Ministry of Science and Technology permanent secretary, in a recent Zambian workshop on solar-energy technology.

A lack of electricity has made ISPs and mobile phone service providers hesitant to build capacity in rural areas. As a result, most rural African areas lack Internet facilities.

"Underutilization of solar energy is depriving rural areas of an opportunity to access information through ICT," Zambezi said.

But strides are being made. For example, the e-school project in Africa -- championed by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, among other organizations -- is using solar energy to power computers in remote areas where schools are not connected to the national grid.

The e-Africa Commission, in Johannesburg, wants more than 500,000 schools throughout Africa to have Internet connections by 2015.

The head of the physics department at the University of Zambia, Geoffrey Munyeme, said social and economic development is inseparable from scientific and technological advances.

"Africa has lagged behind in technology and harvesting solar energy to use for developmental programs," Munyeme said. The e-Africa Commission is chartered to develop ICT in Africa.