BUARIKI, KIRIBATI — As late as 1990, nightfall in Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribass”), a patchwork of tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, was accompanied by a peculiar odor. More than 60 per cent of the country’s 103,000 people had no electricity, and whenever dusk fell, many of them would light greasy kerosene lamps in order to see.
The kerosene fumes were unavoidable, villagers recalled, and the light was not quite suitable for weaving or reef fishing — two economic activities that are central to village livelihoods. “Uncomfortable and annoying,” recalled Roniti Piripi, a villager on North Tarawa, a two-hour boat ride from the grid-connected capital in South Tarawa.
But in 1991, an agent from a government company came to his village, Buariki, and offered to lease him a solar home system for a one-time payment of US$52 and regular monthly payments of $7. Piripi said he leapt at the opportunity and hasn’t looked back. The solar system that he leased 25 years ago now powers his family’s home and dry-goods shop on Buariki’s unpaved main street. They also have a second solar panel from the energy company, which they purchased for around $170, and several hand-held solar lights (donated to 10,000 Kiribati households last year by the Taiwanese government).