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Category: Access to energy

4 posts

Africa’s electricity industry is encumbered with lots of challenges. They range from poor governance, lack of adequate planning, aging equipment, corruption and the dearth of adequate financing. Most of Africa’s electricity is provided through centralized fossil fuel generated plants when the world is fast moving towards distributed, decarbonized and digitized electric systems. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy with a population of about 180 million has less than 10,000 mw of electricity. Moreover, Nigeria is adjudged to be one of the world’s leading off grid nations powered by generators at a cost of over $5billion dollars annually. So, how solar innovations are rising in Africa?

Access to electricity

The lack of electricity and adequate cooking fuel has a lot of negative impacts socially, economically and environmentally. Having access to electricity is more expensive in Africa than in other developed or developing parts of the world. Africans trek long distances to carry out simple tasks like charging their mobile phones. The use of alternatives like generating sets has its own challenges. Indeed, the high cost involved, the noise and negative environmental impact due to fumes from the generating sets. Matter of fact, lots of Africans have died from inhaling toxic smoke. All came from the generating sets while other have suffered from explosions.

Despite all the aforementioned, there seems to be a revolution that is gradually taking place across the continent from Cape to Cairo. Africa is experiencing a rapid transition to cleaner forms of energy. They work on renewable energy technologies like hydro, biomass, geothermal and wind. Despite the gains made using these technologies, the most promising seems to be the explosion of Solar technologies all across the continent.

The promise of solar innovations

Solar is the most promising of all renewable energy technologies. Indeed, there are many advantages it has over other GREEN technologies. There are two primary types of Solar technology for generating electricity comprising of:

  • Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)
  • Solar Photovoltaic (PV)

CSP uses mirrors to heat fluids whose steam is used to power turbines. Photovoltaics on the other hand convert sunlight directly into electricity. For a start, most of Africa is blessed with a lot of sunshine which is far more than that of other climes like Germay which is the world leader in solar technologies installed. Solar is an exponential technology which is experiencing massive growth as a result of falling technology costs, improvements in the technology and growing awareness. It is far cheaper, faster and safer to install solar technologies than other technologies like coal, natural gas, oil, wind etc.

Africa is experiencing an explosion in the number of off grid electricity generation in recent times. Off grid electricity refers to the generation of electricity that is not connected to the national grid. It is a cheaper and more effective way of reaching the millions of Africans that have no access to electricity on the continent. The rise of solar mini-grid technologies is not only providing electricity but transforming the lives of Africans across the continent. New businesses are being established and existing ones are experiencing a new lease of life as business owners stay longer and get more income from using solar. The advent of mini-grid is attracting a lot of funding from countries, international organizations and impact investors around the world.

Solar Home Systems

In addition to mini-grids, micro generation through the use of Solar Home Systems is experiencing a very rapid growth connecting millions of Africans with basic electricity across the continent. Led by companies such as Mkopa, Lumos, Asteven and several others, these solar enterprises provide solutions using innovative business models. They leverage on mobile technology to provide electricity on a pay as you go basis which unlocks the solar home system with payments made through mobile cash transfers. 

Despite the aforementioned progress, there is still a very long way to go to meet the electricity needs of the continent. The cost of GREEN technologies is still way above the income of most Africans and there is a need for subsidies to be granted. Though the technologies have improved drastically compared to what was available previously, there are still complains on the efficiency of some of the systems. Another criticism of the system is that they only provide basic electricity such as lamps for lighting, radio and phone charging. Another major disadvantage of the systems is the fact that few African governments have committed to deploying solar technologies. The issue of taxes and high tariffs is another major impediment to the growth of Solar in Nigeria.

Positive impact of solar technologies for Africa

Regardless of the challenges enumerated above, the Solar technologies are experiencing massive growth and should be encouraged. African countries like Morocco, South Africa and Kenya are taking the lead in supporting Solar technologies. Nigeria is also experiencing a massive uptake of both mini grids and solar home systems through the support of the Rural Electrification Agency.

Organizations like the African Development Bank are investing a lot of money in Solar and recently pledged to provide millions of funding for Solar. All On for instance in partnership with Shell is providing funding for the deployment of renewable energy in Nigeria. What is required for Solar to reach an inflection point of providing electricity in Africa is funding, technology and enabling government policies. Africa has what it takes to transform itself from a continent without adequate electricity to one with sufficient electricity. All stakeholders most come together to ensure the continent morphs from a dark continent to a GREEN continent powered by Solar technologies.

Written by Wajim Yakubu Nuhu

The technology around off-grid solar products has seen considerable development over the years, making access to energy easier for millions of people in energy-starved regions. The newly launched Efficiency for Agricultural Technologies campaign by the Efficiency for Access Coalition has brought the conversation around solar water pumps to the forefront. Moreover, the agricultural sector employs 40% of the world’s population. Despite this, many of the world’s smallholder farmers, especially those in remote locations, have no access to energy. Over the last few years, however, off-grid solar products, especially solar water pumps for irrigation have revolutionized. It helps farmers increasing crop yields and income, in addition to making them more climate resilient. So, how solar water pumps push sustainable irrigation?

Solar water pumps: The current landscape

While solar irrigation has been around since the 1970s, only in the last few years has this segment of the sector seen a surge in innovation.

Similar to the benefits of solar lighting, new technologies within the solar water pump segment can also help increase income levels. GOGLA has observed that with new products being brought to market, new value chains are created, generating more jobs. So, for them, taking a step into this area of productive use appliances was an obvious next move.

How technological innovations have transformed solar water pumps

Smallholder farmers mainly rely on rainfall to water their crops, leaving them at the mercy of uncertain climatic conditions. In the absence of rain, farmers either resort to manual means of crop irrigation or fossil fuel powered pumps – leaving them overburdened physically and financially. The benefits reaped too are minimum.

Smallholder farmers are slowly beginning to experience the benefits of solar water pumps for sustainable irrigation.

“If you’ve got this pump, you don’t go into your pocket to go and buy fuel to operate it. You don’t use your energy to operate it. As long as there is sun, the pump works by itself.”

George Otieno, a farmer from Lake Victoria in Kenya

Internet of Things (IoT) platforms

Most solar-powered water pumps on the market today have integrated remote monitoring or Internet of Things (IoT) platforms. IoT enables a network of communication between the product and a range of other Internet-enabled devices, both traditional and beyond. Smallholder farmers and manufacturers can monitor and understand their solar pumps better through this uniquely connected network.

IoT and the rapidly reducing price of solar PV have made access to efficient irrigation easier. Solar water pumps for sustainable like SunCulture’s RainMaker2 benefit farmers with their in-built platform, ClimateSmart. The platform uses soil sensors and internet-connected weather stations. It analyzes data and provide customers with weather forecasts and best irrigation timing advice on their mobile devices. The platform also enables digital dry run protection to automatically disable a farmer’s RainMaker2 pump and notify them if their well runs dry.

Similarly, Futurepump’s SF2 remote monitoring platform keeps track of the pump’s vital signs and pump utilization: litres of water pumped, area irrigated, fuel savings and other such technical data, which can be beneficial for both distributors and customers.

Substantiating these benefits, a recent study in India reported that 45% of farmers using solar pumps for sustainable saw an increase of 50% or more in their annual incomes compared to rain-fed irrigation.

Solar irrigation has environmental benefits too

As the consequences of climate change become more real, improved irrigation will become an increasingly important mechanism for sustainable and drought-resistant farming, rapidly removing the need for fossil fuels.

Futurepump founder, Toby Hammond explains “Nearly all small solar pumps will have a lower flow rate than fossil fuels pumps because it’s hard for sunshine to match the ‘energy density’ of hydrocarbons. Farmers accustomed to flood-irrigation will need big fixed solar installations. However, for other farmers, slower rates of pumping is a price worth paying to eliminate the fuel costs. Also, slower pumping rates are gentler to water tables and, in many cases, to the crops themselves.”

What’s stopping solar water pump systems from scaling?

Solar water pumps irrigation can unlock huge benefits to farmers, to their wider community, and to the planet. The sector however still has a few hurdles to face. CEO and co-founder of SunCulture, Samir Ibrahim explains; “I think there’s a metaphorical snowball at the top of a mountain. A small snowball, but it’s there. All it needs is a little push”. 

He continues, “Governments and businesses need financial incentives in order to iterate their business models to reach scale…When putting these incentives in place, it’s important to ensure they’re only there for a pre-determined period of time. As a consequence, the market doesn’t depend on them. Some examples could be smart subsidies (i.e. results-based financing), efficient 100% loan guarantees, and blended finance to reduce the cost of financing.”

Deepbloo water africa

The future of solar irrigation

The Efficiency for Access Coalition’s report from the 2018 Solar Water Pumping roundtable estimates that increasing the scale of solar water pumps could benefit nearly 500 million smallholder farmers worldwide by enabling cost-effective irrigation.

Governments in developing regions too are slowly shifting their focus to the segment. In February 2019, the Indian government approved the KUSUM (Kisan Urja Suraksha Utthaan Maha Abhiyaan) scheme wherein a key component of the scheme includes an outlay of $3.3 billion to set-up 1.75 million off-grid solar pumps by 2022, nearly 10 times the number of currently installed pumps.

While farmers who are currently not able to irrigate at all could benefit the most from this technology. Indeed, enormous economic and environmental benefits will follow thanks to solar water pumps irrigation.

As Hammond concludes, “Whilst sunshine is effectively limitless, as the industry grows, water resource management will become increasingly important…Solar irrigation has a very bright future. There are huge opportunities for the world’s smallholder farmers to increase both their income and climate resilience, especially by being able to grow high-value crops in dry seasons when prices are highest.”

Written by the Gogla team

GOGLA was created to accelerate access to modern energy, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 7. They strive to be the voice of the fast growing sector, representing over 135 companies and organizations within the solar lighting and home electrification industry. Learn more about them here.

Around 650 million (50%) of people living in Africa have no access to electricity and the next decades’ challenge is definitively to reduce this drastically. The situation is even more complicated because a large part of Sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas. But, it offers paradoxically a huge opportunity for start-up innovating in the energy sector. So, how innovation is the key to access to energy?

Start-up and innovation

Thanks to their flexibility, start-up can bring disruptive technologies and innovation to increase access to energy. In the past few years, many small and mid-size companies innovate in smarter monitoring system, more efficient sensors and meters, big data, etc. Indeed, when a grid extension to electrify remote areas is too costly, innovation can be answered in providing not only reliable and clean but also affordable (at least less expensive) access to energy.

In remote areas where there is no Wi-Fi signal, GSM modules are now able to send SMS messages to the cloud proving data which can be analysed to improve the systems. The use of the deep-learning can help to better anticipate the energy management, big data collection can improve investors visibility, innovations in batteries and solar PV contribute to the multiplication of microgrids… Any company, which can innovate, has an opportunity and the market is huge!

An opportunity for Africa

If there is no doubt that the electrification of Africa will be made partly through innovation, the second challenge is that African start-up in energy sector emerges quickly to position the country at the forefront of its own energy revolution. If Africa manages to do this, it will get a double economic benefit: for the rural communities and small business -which will be electrified- and for innovative African start-up.

To take advantage of the market, they need support, funds, and visibility. For instance, event such as the International Cleantech Week organized in Annecy (France) can obviously be one part of the answer. Indeed, it could be the opportunity for all these start-up to present their innovative solutions. This is as well one of the major goals of Deepbloo: giving visibility to these small promising companies. Indeed, with an ecosystem dedicated to the energy sector, they can promote their innovations to thousands of professionals working in Development Finance Institutions and large energy corporations!

If providing access to remote areas in Africa is an absolute necessity, ensuring that this will be partly done by the African people themselves should continue to be a reality!

Written by Alexandre Guillemot

The International Energy Agency defines initial electricity access as 250 kWh per year for rural households and 500 kWh for urban households, projecting that this base level increases to 750 kWh per person by 2030. That’s about two orders of magnitude less than the average American consumes on a yearly basis.

As most basic as it would sound, access to electricity simply means being able to harness the richness of power that has been generated to meet specific demands, when needed. I included “when needed” in that simple definition because the problem of energy hasn’t been just about the low generating output, but the unavailability of the energy when it is needed, which can be caused by poor distribution. For us to really be confident in whatever access to energy we have, we must be able to get it, when we need it.
In this write up are a few problems that have hindered the effective utilization of harvested energy and some possible solutions.

Electricity access refers to the percentage of people in a given area that have relatively simple, stable access to electricity. It can be referred to the “electrification rate”.

The Energy Education

It can also be seen as when households have access to sufficient electricity to power a basic bundle of energy services at a minimum cost. In increasing the accessibility of energy to areas of deficiency, a lot of factors have to be considered. They include high connection costs, unreliable or unavailable grid electricity, low population density (especially in rural areas), high leakage rates, high operational costs that pose challenges for utilities and consumers ability to pay, low demand from productive users, and lack of investment.

Governing Policies

Taking a review of the current governmental policies guiding the energy sector, it can be said that some of these policies have hindered massively the extensive growth of the energy sector. Indeed, growth in the energy sector would entail that access to electricity by people and beneficiaries becomes less of a huddle. According to a research study, the government’s policies for over 50  years now have been favouring monopoly in the power generation, transmission, distribution and sales. These policies have supported a full and monopolistic control of power and generation supply. However, new policies have to be established to support the exploration of this sector by private individuals. This would lead to a very competitive market with side effects of better energy to the people.  

A good command of the governing bodies in ensuring electricity access would be to determine the measures and conditions of electrification, who benefits from these efforts, and the affordability of electricity access by  beneficiaries. For consumers within the reach of the central grid, a key affordability challenge is the cost of connecting to the grid. In sub-saharan africa, connection charges are the greatest drawbacks to a successful connection. The government and her policies may come in, to inject subsidies to enable reduced costs for new installation and connections. Subsidies may also be offered to reduce tariff burdens, thereby improving accessibility.  

Efficiency in Power generation, transmission and distribution

According to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing in an interview in 2018, he stated that Nigeria has the capacity to generate over 7000MW. Unfortunately, only about 5000MW goes to the national grid for distribution. Though we have an excess in the power being generated, it is poorly harnessed due to the inefficient infrastructure for distribution. For a country like Nigeria struggling to distribute the generated 7000MW, to over 150 million consumers, access to electricity would be limited compared to a country like South Africa generating about 51000MW for 57 million consumers, or Brazil generating 137000MW for about 211 million consumers.

Energy access in a nutshell, really boils down to our generating capacity, transmission and efficient distribution of that generated power. To be able to fit the terms of energy access for every individuals, power ought to be generated not just to match the immediate needs, but in excess to cater for up coming demands. And so improving energy access to deficient areas like Nigeria, full utilization of all forms of power generation must done, i.e wind energy, solar, hydro etc. especially clean energy.

Competent workforce

This is a general Nigerian problem where companies, especially government firms, employ workers not based on merit and competence but on favoritism and tribalism. As a consequence, no government company in Nigeria that requires workers with professional and technical competence has ever succeeded. Indeed, NEPA and PHCN had staff, majority of which were employed through the back door and therefore, the only thing they seemed to know was how to climb electric poles and cut cables.

On November 5, 2013, Nigerians rejoiced as government handed over generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to private companies. At least Nigerians believed that with the private ownership of these companies, the companies would immediately hire competent staff that will work towards the growth and betterment of the system. However, six months after, Nigerians from all walks of life continue to grumble that power supply has gone from bad to worse (Ukoko et al, 2014). These new companies still retain the old incompetent staff of NEPA and PHCN for reasons best known to them.

Mini grid Africa
A photo voltaic solar power installation in a rural area of South Africa, utilising the abundance of sunlight energy in summer.

Emerging Technologies

These are only a nutshell of problems that have impeded the growth of the energy sector in Nigeria and in a wider scope of Africa. However, emerging technologies are presenting themselves as viable alternatives to our present source of electricity which would present easier and more efficient ways of providing energy to individuals. Technologies like solar technology, particularly mini-grids are a viable possibility for scaling up electricity access in areas where grid connections are limited. These technologies are not just emerging, but new policies are being formulated to rationalize the electricity pricing, reduce regulatory barriers that limit private sector investments in grid or off-grid power production, making utility operations more efficient and providing better opportunities for investors.   

Energy Efficiency

Innovative practices of demand estimation based on consumer data allow energy planners and service providers to incorporate energy efficiency and demand-side management into forecasting and subsequent generation-capacity planning. These practices through effective energy planning, customers are able to do more with less electricity. This is critical because most people without electricity access live in electricity constrained environments.   

Supply and Demand side efficiency

Poor supply-side efficiency can result in significant depletion of the electricity that is ultimately available to end consumers and can lead to higher electricity costs. Most developing countries with low electricity budgets usually invest in power plants with very low efficiencies due to the generally lower upfront costs of such options. In addition, old and poorly maintained transmission and distribution infrastructure may also result in significant transmission and distribution losses, further reducing the electricity available to consumers. The budget for maintenance by the government and all stakeholders in the energy sector must place much emphasis on the maintenance of these infrastructure as its efficiency is directly linked to the access of the consumers.  Efficiency on the demand side, considering both grid-connected and off-grid consumers, would go a long way in ensuring that consumers do more with less. Demand-side measures focus on reducing the overall electricity demand of consumers.

To read more about energy access.

Written by Oluwaseun Abraham
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