With 250 days of sunshine a year, Mongolia’s potential for solar energy is vast but mostly underutilized. That’s beginning to change though – a new government sponsored initiative aims to equip traditional dome-like homes called gers (tents made of felt and yak’s wool) with portable solar home systems (SHS) to make life a little easier in the northern highlands. So far, almost 70 percent of nomadic people now have access to electricity thanks to newly installed solar panels.

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Although Mongolia has been progressing for years in terms of development, about 800,000 of the country’s 2.8 million inhabitants still live the traditional nomadic lifestyle. These communities tend to live without the most basic of modern conveniences such as electricity and running water, although some families may use a small motorbike or petrol generator.

Thanks to the new solar home systems, many nomads are finally seeing the light, literally. This recent change in lifestyle is having a fairly positive impact on nomadic families who can now take advantage of solar-generated electricity for improved food refrigeration, cell phones usage and televisions to watch the weather forecast, which is essential in the life of a shepherd. The ability to keep a cell phone charged is also an important factor for health and safety reasons. Now, nomads can call emergency healthcare centers or private doctors for health advice without having to make a long trek to the nearest village.

The use of cell phones has had an especially strong impact on keeping distant family members in contact with their families in Mongolia. Often, nomads send their children to boarding schools far away to receive an education. Now families can charge cell phones with their self-harvested solar energy and keep in contact with their children, something that was impossible until now.

“Most countryside children stay in dorms, because their parents are nomads and it is the only way they can get an education,” Bor, a herder in the Arkhangai province, told Al Jazeera.

“We can call our children who are in the dorms and speak to them. I also have children working in Ulaanbaatar [Mongolia’s capital] and I can speak to them as well. The solar panels are a very useful thing in our lives.”

Via Al Jazeera