Recently I spent a week in the Serengeti living in a couple tent camps powered largely by solar panels. Here’s a few takeaways:

  1. Solar was good for lights…as long as you stayed indoors after dark or didn’t stray more than 10 feet from your tent. On the other hand, if you strayed more than 10 feet from your tent, a lion would eat you.
  2. Solar was good for warming water…as long as you were happy taking a lukewarm shower in the heat of the afternoon and required no warm water at dawn. Warm water at dawn is overrated.
  3. Solar was good for heating and cooling…as long as you like hot afternoons and butt freezing cold nights. On the other hand, it kept you under the covers throughout the night because, well, a lion would eat you if you crawled out of the tent (see Takeaway No. 1).
  4. Solar was good for charging our cell phones and camera batteries. On the other hand, it wasn’t powerful enough to run a cell phone tower, so we couldn’t talk with anybody back home about how darned cold and dark it was at night (see Takeaway No. 3).

5. Solar was good for cooking. Ha! Not. A truck had to bring in a huge tank of propane every week so that food could be cooked and water boiled. Otherwise we would have all died of cholera.

6. Solar was good for transportation. Who am I trying to kid? It was terrible for transportation. Every few days the Land Cruisers had to drive 100 kilometers across the prairie to fill their dual tanks with diesel. With full tanks of diesel, we could bounce across the Serengeti looking for the lions who planned to eat us if we came out of our tents at night.

7. Solar was safe for hot air ballooning. The number one cause of hot air balloon crashes is collisions with high voltage power lines. I’ve never felt safer in a wicker basket at dawn, although it would have been nice to have washed with warm water before we crawled in (see Takeaway No. 2).

8. Solar was perfectly acceptable. That is, so long as you are living in a sunny, but not too hot, not too cold place where you don’t have to go anywhere, call anybody or eat anything.

I suppose the tent camps could have put up a few giant 300’ tall wind generators, but the roar of the blades would have scared off all the wildebeests and ruined the hot air ballooning.