Solar Sister, the company that has spent the last decade helping bring clean energy to rural homes in Africa, and founded by Katherine Lucey its CEO, has now earned global recognition courtesy of an international award for projects and organizations dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Solar Sister is one of two winners of the 2019 Keeling Curve Prize for energy access, an honor that comes with $25,000 that the nonprofit plans to use to continue supporting local, female entrepreneurs with clean energy businesses in Africa.
Speaking about this latest award, CEO Katherine Lucey said: “We were so excited and honored and humbled. It's an incredible recognition… The Keeling Curve Prize is acknowledging those who are working to take action to combat climate change. For Solar Sister, what that really means for us was an acknowledgement that we all have a part to play.”
Named after scientist Charles David Keeling, who started a program in the 1950s that measures the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, the Keeling Curve Prize launched in the fall of 2017 and announced its 2019 recipients on June 28 at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. The 2019 Keeling Curve Prize went to 10 projects in five categories that an international, nine-person judging panel determined show significant promise for addressing global warming. Solar Sister won in the energy access category alongside a Dutch-South African company called African Clean Energy that manufactures and distributes a smokeless, biomass-powered cook stove to households in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.
“The applications were extraordinarily impressive, reflecting the wide variety of ways determined people around the world are tackling the climate crisis,” Keeling Curve Prize judge Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. “We must take immediate action to address global warming, and the Keeling Curve Prize is shining a spotlight on practical solutions that can reduce heat-trapping emissions, increase carbon uptake, and slow climate change.”
Katherine Lucey founded Solar Sister about 10 years ago after working in Uganda to install solar energy in local schools and clinics. The households in the area where Katherine worked had no easy access to an electric power grid and instead depended on kerosene, even though the oil releases toxic fumes when burned and costs some families up to 25 percent of their income.
Wondering why people did not use solar lamps as a cheaper, cleaner substitute, Katherine realized that the main obstacle to transitioning for many was the products’ limited distribution in the rural villages that could benefit from them. She said: “What we needed was some way to get the product to the people right at their doorstep in a way that they trusted the product enough to buy it.” Rather than simply handing out solar lamps to people, Solar Sister recruits, trains, and supports local, primarily female entrepreneurs and supplies them with solar-powered products and more efficient cooking stoves.
Solar Sister’s model not only improves the distribution of clean energy, but also builds up the local economy by giving women the ability to earn income, which in turn leads to improvements in health, education, and financial stability. While Solar Sister closed its Ugandan operations in 2017, the nonprofit has worked in Tanzania since 2013 and Nigeria since 2014. It has spread solar energy to more than 1.6 million people, sold 292,567 products, and trained over 4,000 entrepreneurs, 83 percent of whom are women.
Keeling Curve Prize founder and director Jacquelyn Francis says the energy access category is intended to specifically acknowledge projects that target underserved communities, making Solar Sister a perfect fit. “They are taking that really important leap into markets that aren't necessarily very accessible,” Francis said. “They also show an ability to help with diversification with how they address female empowerment, how they create accessibility in underserved nations, and how they show this ability for being able to scale up, and that's really important in what we award prize money to.”
Solar Sister’s current goal is to bring clean energy to 10 million people and help 10,000 women start businesses by 2025.
“Our focus from the very beginning has really been to support women entrepreneurs in local communities across sub-Saharan Africa to build their clean energy businesses, to reach more people so that more people have access,” Lucey said. “The Keeling Curve Prize will go right back into that and help us reach and scale up even more.”
Find out more about Solar Sister by visiting their website www.solarsister.org