Solar Energy Project for Uganda

Wed, 15 Apr 1998 19:14:26 EDT

Dear ASA friends:

Bishop Alden Hathaway of the Episcopal Church is actively seeking support for
a project to provide cheap electricity to rural families in Uganda. The
following is (extensively) quoted from a message by Richard Kew on another

"Bishops can get up to pretty dumb things, even the ones I know and love, so
when Alden Hathaway, retired Bishop of Pittsburgh, started talking about his
solar energy project in Uganda a few weeks ago I was edgy. I spent nearly an
hour the other evening listening to Bishop Alden Hathaway explain this project
to a small group and his arguments won me over lock, stock, and barrel. This
is visionary and could have a profound influence on the 21st Century.

Not only is this a fascinating project with tremendous implications for
struggling parts of the world like central Africa, but this technology has
remarkable possibilities for the way we live our lives and the manner we share
in the global task of mission, ministry, and energy conservation.

Let me review the project for those who missed it. Alden Hathaway, Jr., the
bishop's son, is an electrical engineer who has developed a solar panel
package that can provide basic electricity for an African home, a 12v current
for lighting and running minor appliances like a cellphone. Sounds very
basic, and it is - but this will be revolutionary for millions. Much of
Africa is a land still lit only by fire, and telephone services are either
terrible or non-existent - except in major cities telecommunications have
tended to deteriorated over much of the continent in the last generation, and
more people than ever live without electricity.

What is fascinating is that it is Christians who see the potential for this
technology: the way it might bring comfort to thousands, provide a resource
to deal effectively with emergencies, assist with gospel ministry, and not add
to the staggering burden of debt carried by many of the poorer nations in that
part of the world as they attempt to provide the basics for their people.

This is a pilot project that is being sponsored by the Hathaway Foundation and
the Episcopal Church Missionary Community. They began by focusing on the
homes of the clergy in the Diocese of South Ruenzori, but it already looks set
to spread to every diocese in Uganda. Not only is the Anglican Archbishop is
eager to pursue it, so are leaders of the Roman Catholic Church - the other
major denomination in Uganda. President Museveni and the Ugandan government
are interested as they frame energy policy, while the head of the company
creating these home-based units accompanied President Clinton to Uganda last

What I find exciting about this technology is that it is environmentally
friendly, something desperately necessary in the developing world. Last
week's Economist magazine spent 32 pages pointing up the environmental havoc
now being wrought in countries that do not have the resources to do anything
other than they are doing. Energy gathered from the sun is constantly
renewable, providing one of the fundamentals of life at a relatively low
price. Right now the cost for each home is $1,000, but like all electronics,
per unit prices drop considerably with mass production and installation.

Twelve years ago, when I was part of SPCK, a representative from the Society
participated in an international conference about Christianity and
telecommunications. A point that firmly lodged in my head from his report was
that traditional wired telephony with which we are familiar is close to
impossible in much of Africa. That conference looked forward to the
development of cellular technology that would enable calls to be bounced off
satellites and save the establishment of impossible to secure telephone
substations and wiring that would be destroyed by animals, insects and people
very rapidly.

Once a parsonage is electrified, then the next step will be to install a
cellular phone which would bring tremendous blessing to that priest, his
family, and the congregations amongst whom he ministers. I say congregationS,
because most clergy in that part of Africa have more than one congregation for
which they have oversight.

But there are other knock-on effects of a project like this:

1. Alden Hathaway, Jr., has pointed out to his father that not only is the
electrical grid in North America over-burdened, but should we receive record-
setting weather, then areas, perhaps even the whole country, is in danger of
major outages. If this sounds far-fetched you only have to look at Auckland,
New Zealand, sweltering in a record-breaking southern summer, lost electricity
for more than a month when all the major cables into the city went down in
February. It would be wise for Americans to start thinking about having such
solar systems attached to their homes not only to supplement the electricity
they get from the grid, but to provide a back-up should such a thing happen
here. It would certainly also demonstrate a commitment to better stewardship
of this planet's limited resources. The main administrative building at
Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry already has such a system in place.

2. This is a venture that could change for the better the lives of lot of
people down the road. The world population is growing. There is no way that
the costly, wasteful approach to energy generation in the west can be
undertaken effectively all over the world. The poor nations cannot afford to
go deeper into debt with vast power stations that require huge amounts of
energy, neither can the world handle the pollution potential of such units.

3. It could also be a socially responsible approach to investment. Investment
in this kind of project now could provide a generous pay off in the years
ahead. In the audience for Alden Hathaway's presentation was a CPA (who has
just joined Toward2015). According to Craig Bissell, there are a variety of
ways to finance projects like this - everything from traditional donations
through a charitable organization, to the development of a non-profit/for-
profit hybrid that could receive necessary investment for making something
like this happen. As one of those who has spent every dime I have educating my
children during the great run-up of the world stock markets in the last
fifteen years, I am looking for different ways that will enable me to both
save and to be a faithful Christian: this appeals. There is risk, but even if
I lose everything I would have helped some.

4. One of the challenges before the churches as we enter the new century is
developing new streams of income to do our work. We have not been particularly
creative in our use of funds to advance the cause of the Gospel and of human
dignity. Just as there are a variety of approaches to saving these days -
everything from savings bonds, through mutual funds, to a whole series of more
exotic mechanisms - so there ought to be a cross-section of arrows in our
quiver for funding mission and ministry. Commitment to something like this
could be used in this way.

During the next few days I will be gathering materials on this project and we
will develop a special section for it on the newly vamped Toward2015 website
at Meanwhile, you can email Bishop Hathaway at

In Christ,

Richard Kew"

This project is in line with our Statement of Faith and I would urge ASA
members to prayfully consider how we can use our expertise in helping our
brothers and sisters in the Two Thirds world.

David Bailey