Microgrids and mobile tech bring solar power to rural Kenya

Steama.CoIn a dusty trading center at the foot of the Entasopia escarpment in Kenya’s Kajiado County, John Pambio is deeply engrossed in soldering together a customer’s phone at his electronics repair kiosk.

Until nine months ago, Pambio would have had to send the job to a repair shop in Kiserian township 95 km away, due to a lack of power.

But in July 2014, Kenyan renewable energy firm SteamaCo set up a solar microgrid in Entasopia, and Pambio was able to use electrical tools for the first time.

“Now I can handle any kind of repair work my customers require,” he said.

The 24-year-old is one of some 70 people in Entasopia benefiting from SteamaCo’s solar microgrid project, which aims to provide reliable power to residents of the remote area on the southern savannah.


Tanzania solar

Solar ‘generators’ power up remote homes, factories

Tanzania solarAs darkness falls, Dora Mjungu and her two brothers cram themselves around the faint flame of a kerosene lamp, struggling to finish their homework before their mother blows out the lamp to save the fuel cost.

“I don’t dare to go to bed before getting it done. If I did, I would rather stay at home because my teacher would be mad at me and hit me hard as if she was killing a snake,” said Mjungu, as the lamp, made from a used cooking oil tin, cast scary shadows on the sitting room walls.

For years, 14-year-old Mjungu, a pupil at Usinge primary school in remote Tura village in Tanzania’s Tabora region, has been trying to convince her mother to buy a Chinese-made solar lamp, which would not emit smoke that makes her cough.

Her mother says pupils have long survived studying by firelight or even moonlight, and “circumstances are such that I cannot afford any other kind of lamp.”


African solar

Africa Could Become the Next Bright Spot for Solar Power Production

African solarAfter studying by lamplight, the pupils at Idodi Secondary School in Tanzania took to their dormitories for the night. By morning, twelve schoolgirls were dead. The fire that engulfed the school was started when a kerosene lamp was knocked over during the night, the deadly flames moving through the building as the girls slept.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the funeral to see the girls laid to rest in a small cemetery in the school’s playground. Their bodies were unidentifiable, burnt beyond recognition, and were buried in a mass grave. A few feet from the dusty cemetery, under a willow tree, a single wooden post displays the twelve girls’ names.

Idodi is a small village, 200 miles from Dodoma the country’s capital. It has only one secondary school and in the weeks following the fire, the pupils were sent home, waiting for a new dormitory to be built.

Ethiopian Solar

This tulip-shaped solar plant is bringing reliable energy to Ethiopia

Ethiopian SolarDevelopment in rural African communities is often limited by lack of access to reliable power – hospitals, schools and businesses all require a steady source of electricity in order to function. The government of Ethiopia just announced plans to address this need using the AORA Solar-Hybrid system. The AORA system is ingenious because it is modular and uses less water than other systems, but perhaps best of all, the concentrated solar tower looks like a gorgeous energy-generating tulip high in the sky.

The unique AORA design takes up hardly any space – just .86 acres per module and can provide 100 kWh of solar and 170kWh of thermal, all with just 8% of the water typically required by CSP projects. The bulb design isn’t just cute – the shape allows the sun to heat the air inside to create electricity.


Renewables, Not Coal, Way Out Of Energy Poverty In Africa

520-solar-in-africaCoal is “essential to meet the scale of Africa’s desperate need for electricity,” says Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest publicly traded coal company. However, a new analysis published by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) challenges these claims, finding instead that the falling costs of renewable power is the way out of energypoverty in Africa.

It’s a good old-fashioned “he said/she said” debate, but one that is going to pop up more and more as we continue to divest ourselves from fossil fuels.

Coal’s Only Arguments

In a piece written in August on the Advanced Energy For Life website — a site sponsored by Peabody Energy — Frank Clemente, PhD, wrote that “coal is essential to meet the scale of Africa’s desperate need for electricity.” In the end, Mr Clemente could only resort to baselessly attacking renewable energy proponents, painting us as elitists who can’t see the real issue from our “well-lit and air-conditioned eyries in New York and London.”

Largest Solar Power Plant in Africa Flips the Switch

The Jasper solar power plant in northern South Africa is now the continent’s largest.
The Jasper solar power plant in northern South Africa is now the continent’s largest.

With seven of the world’s fastest growing economies located in Africa, it should not be a surprise that the continent’s energy demands will only surge in the coming decade. Hence plenty of opportunities exist for clean energy companies as investors worldwide realize Africa, with all of its risks, is a booming market. To that end, California-based Solar Reserve, together with numerous partners, has completed and launched the Jasper PV Project in South Africa.

Built in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, the Jasper solar power plant is now the largest of its kind on the African continent. The consortium that led the development of the Jasper facility included the Kensani Group, Intikon Energy, Rand Merchant Bank and Google. Incidentally, the Jasper plant is Google’s first clean energy investment within Africa.

Renewable Energy Share In Sub-Saharan Africa Could Reach 45% By 2040, IEA Reports

from International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2014 World Energy Outlook
from International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2014 World Energy Outlook
“A better functioning energy sector is vital to ensuring that the citizens of sub-Saharan Africa can fulfil their aspirations. The energy sector is acting as a brake on development, but this can be overcome and the benefits of success are huge.”

So said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in conjunction with the release of the Africa Energy Outlook report, a part of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2014 World Energy Outlook series of reports.

According to the report, more than 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living without electricity, while nearly 730 million people rely on what the IEA describe as “dangerous” and “inefficient” forms of cooking. The use of solid biomass, in the form of fuels like fuel wood and charcoal, outweighs that of any other fuel, combined.

To sum up the sub-Saharan Africa issue, think about this: Average electricity consumption per capita is not enough to continuously power a 50-watt light bulb.

So, even though Maria van der Hoeven’s words may sound somewhat trite up front, the reality is that many sub-Saharan African aspirations have been put on hold simply due to the appalling energy infrastructure available to them.

“The primary purpose of our energy system is to contribute to a better quality of life,” writes van der Hoeven in the report’s Foreward. “To those that have it, modern energy unlocks access to improved healthcare, improved education, improved economic opportunities and, even, longer life. To those that don’t, it is a major constraint on their social and economic development.”

The 242 page report (PDF) is the IEA’s first comprehensive analysis of sub-Saharan Africa, and finds that despite the gloomy statistics, the region’s energy resources are “more than enough” to meet the needs of its population. The problem? Under-development.

The report is nothing short of a mammoth comprehensive undertaking looking into the energy infrastructure, needs, and possible development of sub-Saharan Africa. The acknowledgements (PDF) that accompany the report are many and varied, and the findings are promising.

A Brighter Tomorrow

The fourth chapter of the report highlights what the IEA describe as “an African Century Case,” a scenario which “offers a brighter vision of how energy can contribute to inclusive economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.” Accordingly, three separate actions taken under such a scenario could boost the region’s economy by a further 30% in 2040, “and deliver an extra decade’s worth of growth in per-capita incomes by 2040.” These three actions are:

  • An additional $450 billion in power sector investment, reducing power outages by half and achieving universal electricity access in urban areas.
  • Deeper regional co-operation and integration, facilitating new large-scale generation and transmission projects and enabling a further expansion in cross-border trade.
  • Better management of energy resources and revenues, adopting robust and transparent processes that allow for more effective use of oil and gas revenues.

Energy Resources

As already mentioned, Africa is not short on energy resources. The report notes that the region accounted for almost 30% of global oil and gas discoveries made over the last five years, and is already home to several major energy producers, including

Unsurprisingly, and almost stereotypically, the region is a renewable energy goldmine, with massive reserves of solar and hydro potential, as well as lesser wind and geothermal opportunities. The IEA report projects a scenario in which rapidly growing renewable energy installations could result in the region getting 45% of its electricity generation capacity from renewable energy power plants.

Numerous reports throughout the year have highlighted the existing potential in Africa for enormous renewable energy growth, representing the inherent growth needed in the region.

In August, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that sub-Saharan Africa was set to see more renewable energy come online in 2014 than it had in the preceding 14 years. At the time, a total of 1.8 GW worth of renewable energy was set to come online throughout 2014.

A month later, and two reports published highlighted the region’s potential for solar PV development. The Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index placed South Africa and Kenya amongst their most attractive emerging markets. A day later, NPD Solarbuzz released their Middle East and Africa Deal Tracker figures, showcasing a total potential capacity of more than 11 GW currently workings its way through the Africa solar pipeline.

The Middle East and Africa Region has often been heralded as the next big growth region for solar, as Chinese manufacturers and downstream developers turn their sights to richer fields. But beyond the basic moneymaking sense of developing the region, the need for energy- and cost-efficient energy is — as we’ve seen — absolutely vital.

“The fundamental market driver in Africa remains the basic need for energy, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. However, demand is also being driven by project developers that are seeking new overseas markets to compensate for the downturn in PV projects across mainland Europe,” noted NPD Solarbuzz analyst Susanne von Aichberger. “Growth constraints for PV across Africa include weak energy infrastructure, corruption, and political and social instability.”

Africa: Set for Solar Revolution


The future of renewable energy in Africa is looking brighter all the time.

The African Renewable Energy Fund (AREF) has raised $100 million for the development of grid-connected renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

Though many countries in sub-Saharan Africa remain drastically underdeveloped, which has caused the region to have the world’s lowest electricity access rate at 24 percent, a handful of countries are taking the first steps toward a renewables revolution.

The Upside to Solar Energy Development

There are many specific challenges for renewable energy growth in sub-Saharan Africa, but the region also has a huge upside when it comes to solar power. According to the National Solar Power Research Institute (NSPRI), most African countries receive 325 days of sunlight a year and daily solar radiation between 4 kWh and 6 kWh per square meter. This high amount of insolation correlates to a high generating capacity potential.

With solar costs falling nearly 80 percent between 2008 and 2012, the price of PV is nearing grid parity for traditional electricity sources. Given that energy prices in sub-Saharan Africa are some of the highest in the world and only figure to get higher, demand for renewable energy should increase rapidly. This is one of the primary reasons many are predicting a solar energy boom in coming years.

The decentralized nature of solar power and other renewable energy technologies makes them particularly suitable for small grids or off-grid communities. Nearly 66 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lives in areas where connection to the grid is too expensive or too difficult for other reasons. Solar can be specifically advantageous in these situations to electrify many of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural communities.
africa chart.jpg

Image Credit: IRENA

Finally, solar energy is a domestic resource that offers alternatives to the expensive imports of fossil fuels and will allow sub-Saharan countries to free themselves from foreign and volatile supply chains. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that coal, oil, and gas together counted for 81 percent of Africa’s total electricity generation in 2009. Nuclear power accounted for 2 percent, hydropower 16, and all other renewable sources just 1 percent.

The volatility of price levels for fossil fuels have increased in the last decade, so a shift to more renewable energy sources such as solar power should be attractive for sub-Saharan African countries that want to reduce their dependency on more expensive and unreliable energy sources.

Going Solar Brings Unique Challenges to sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa not only faces financial challenges but also political and logistical hurdles it must clear to help the region realize its vast renewable energy potential.

Given many sub-Saharan African countries’ reliance on fossil fuels, it’s not surprising that centralized power companies promoting large coal and petroleum plants do not have much room or will to fit smaller, decentralized PV projects into their programs. Politicians are hesitant to spend precious money on off-grid PV projects when their main focus is on expanding the electricity grid to the whole country.

In addition, because policy-makers are often caught up in managing day-to-day energy crises, they often remain unaware of the transformative power of solar energy for their countries. Without the time or support to create policies, regulations, and incentives necessary to help renewable energy gain a foothold in their countries, policy-makers struggle to create new power structures that incorporate renewable energy.

Image Credit: CNN

One of the most well-cited challenges for renewable energy growth in sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of access to funds to help jumpstart renewable energy production. Solar’s high upfront capital costs and longer payback periods coupled with a lack of experience dealing with these new energy sources in the banking sector has led to many financing problems.

Sub-Saharan Africa is much different than some of the leading solar countries such as Germany, the U.S., and China because there is a comparative lack of a middle class to invest in solar PV systems. Developers chase large-scale power projects, which leaves many solar PV projects hanging out to dry with no financing in sight.

South Africa a Bright Spot for sub-Saharan Solar

In late-January, South Africa was ranked the world’s most attractive emerging market for solar PV, surpassing other contenders such as Turkey and Thailand, according to market analyst firm IHS.

A combination of the country’s target of 8.4 GW of installed solar PV capacity by 2030 and its large-scale tendering process in attracting investment to reach that target gave South Africa a final score of 66 out of 100 for the fourth quarter of 2013. It bested the next country on the list by 17 points.

Investment in South Africa for renewable energy also increased rapidly in 2012 up from a few hundred million dollars to $5.7 billion. This impressive surge even saw an investment from Google, which traditionally doesn’t look beyond the U.S. and Europe for investments in solar.

The search engine giant invested $12 million in the Jasper Power Project, a 96 MW solar PV plant in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. When the plant is completed, it will be one of the largest on the continent, generating enough electricity to power 30,000 South African homes. The project will also create approximately 300 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs and will provide rural development and education programs.

Image Credit: IHS Technology

Sub-Saharan Africa faces some serious political and financial challenges in establishing renewable energy programs across the continent, but many countries are already seeing the benefits of renewable energy for both urban and rural communities.

The region has arguably the most room to grow of any in the world, and declining PV prices along with increasing familiarity of solar PV and other clean energy sources among policy-makers and locals will boost renewable energy development in the coming years.

Though many projects are still in their infancy, they show great promise to transform Africa’s energy industry into one of the world’s most attractive markets for investment in renewable energy and solar PV.

Aven Satre-Meloy graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science and environmental studies. He joined Mosaic last summer as a Communications Fellow and has been part of the blog team ever since, writing about clean energy and designing many of the infographics on Mosaic’s blog. Aven is currently teaching English in Turkey, which has a rapidly growing renewable energy program. A Montana native, Aven is especially interested in how renewable energy can create sustainable growth in the developing world.

Original Article on Mosaic

Solar-Powered Computers for Students in Africa


A business which is based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park (UNIP) has developed a unique solar-powered off-grid computing solution which is being used by students in Africa.

Sustainable Computers was founded by Tony Winfield, a former Head of ICT and Business at a local secondary school, who recognized that one of the issues holding back the use of ICT in developing countries was the availability and cost of electricity.

Working with manufacturers, Solar Ready Ltd., Tony came up with the idea of combining his background in education and healthcare with an ICT solution which could be run off solar power. The solar-powered computer developed by Solar Ready operates completely “off-grid”, using direct and stored power from renewable energy sources.

Some of these  solar-powered computers are already benefiting students in South Africa and Ghana where they are being used as self-contained classrooms. Speaking about the benefits of the solar-powered system, Tony said: “The solution we’ve developed is ideal for schools and other organizations that have unreliable or no access to mains electricity. However, it can also be used with mains supplies, providing savings of up to 70% on electricity costs.

“Each component in the system is designed to maximize efficiency. The power is distributed directly to each computer and screen, doing away with the need for wasteful power inverters, enabling the solar-powered systems to operate in both daylight and dark hours.”

The move to UNIP is enabling Sustainable Computers to make new links with university academics and other businesses which are based at the Innovation Park. The company is currently working on a number of collaborative international research projects with academics at the University of Nottingham and industry.

One project which is being developed with The University of Nottingham and the Institute of Physics is for a system which will be used in Ethiopia for five teacher training centers which will help to teach Physics to pupils in the country. They are planning to extend the project to include Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.

“Being based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park has been really beneficial to the business,” added Tony. “I have made links with lots of academics and other staff who are helping me to find new opportunities for the technology.”

Bob Scott, Director of the University of Nottingham Innovation Park (UNIP), added: “It’s great to see that Sustainable Computers is developing and growing at UNIP. There are lots of entrepreneurs based here who find the dynamic environment and the access to academic expertise and talented students invaluable as a means of sparking new ideas, thinking and working more innovatively.”

Original Article on The Daily Fusion