African villages may see light due to California solar entrepreneurs

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 12, 2011 

Electric power. We flip a switch, turn it on, take it for granted. The lights, the microwave, the flat-screen TV; and now the Leaf or Volt or some other electric car.

But in Africa, electricity remains a rare, hard-earned luxury. Blackouts as long as 12 hours are common, even in the large cities, while homes in villages far off the grid are warmed by wood fires and glow to kerosene light.

James Tataw, owner of San Jose-based Spectrum Solar Electric, and his friend and fellow solar entrepreneur Dennis Forsberg of El Dorado Hills-based Sunbolt Energy Systems plan to change that.

Their charge: "Illuminate Africa. One village at a time."

"There are some people who haven't ever seen power," Tataw said. "They need energy, but they don't need a lot – light bulbs, TV, radio."

The Cameroon-born Tataw, a master electrician and solar business owner, last year established the nonprofit African Solar Electric Light Foundation, or ASELF, to deliver small-scale, off-grid solar light and power to homes and businesses in Cameroon and, eventually, across Africa.

Today, Tataw is ASELF's chief executive officer and Forsberg the foundation's executive director.

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