Our Perspectives

UNDP missions powered by the sun


workers install solar panelsWorkers install solar panels on the roof of the UNDP offices in Sierra Leone.

UNDP offices are looking to the sky to power their programmes.

It's interesting to see what we have already accomplished, and how much more we can do. Solar power is a champion for many of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, including targets for resilient cities, infrastructure, and sustainable energy. It is a key to our global warming crisis, especially for sun-filled regions of the world. It creates an energy-independent environment with less noise and air pollution and sustainable, outage-free workplaces for UNDP and its partners.

The U.S. International Energy Agency reports that the sun could be the largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydropower, and nuclear, with localized solar photovoltaic (PV) systems generating up to 16 percent of the world's electricity and solar power plants providing an additional 11 percent.

As part of the response to Ebola, UNDP installed solar systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in 2014, and at three sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At UNDP Sierra Leone, 196 panels now provide power for 200 staff in the office, which also houses the UN Joint Medical services and security services for Freetown. Carine Yengayenge, Deputy Country Director, is excited, noting "the environmental benefits of moving to solar energy are significant. If generators are not running day and night, then there will be less pollution, less noise, and increased well-being for staff."

Solar benefits for the office are environmental and financial. The office can save at least US$186,278 a year and is leading by example for other UN and Government agencies.

UNDP’s new solar system extends beyond the Freetown office. Staff received over 200 solar lanterns and radios to promote welfare, health and security in their communities, as most neighborhoods can go for days or weeks without electricity.  In the dry season particularly, serious power cuts can last for days, and the lanterns provide an effective alternative to expensive generators. During the Ebola crisis, kids could listen to teaching programmes over solar radios when schools were closed due to the epidemic.

Electricity reaches less than 10% of the Sierra Leone population. With the total capacity of the national grid being less than 100MW, most offices and businesses rely on generators for energy, increasing running costs and leading to serious environmental and health consequences.  The noise pollution and clouds of diesel smoke from generators affect everyone, especially in Freetown.  Renewable energy like solar and wind for electricity can enhance the competitiveness of businesses, reducing poverty and fostering economic growth.  

Solar power offers measurable benefits to all UNDP and partner offices as well as the civil society groups and government counterparts that UNDP works with, demonstrating UNDP practicing what it espouses: sustainable human development. UNDP estimates a return on Investment at 1.13 per year (with an average solar lifespan of twenty years).

Besides Sierra Leone, UNDP offices in Armenia, Benin, Burundi, Cyprus, Turkey, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Democratic Republic of the Congo are also recent converts to solar power. Yahya Ba, Deputy Resident Representative-Operations, UNDP Democratic Republic of the Congo, says that solar power contributes to their resilience with fewer outages and ubiquitous services, increasing staff productivity, and "greening the blue".

Solar power works in development because it combines economic benefits with business continuity during power outages, while reducing carbon footprints and supporting crisis prevention and recovery.  It has already helped UNDP to practice what it preaches.

Environment Renewable energy Energy Africa Sierra Leone William Allen

UNDP Around the world