Solar Solution to Lack of Electricity in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Electricity is critical to improving human development and living standards. Yet, for many in the global South, electricity is either non-existent or its provision is patchy, erratic, unreliable or expensive.

Just as Africa has been able to jump a generation ahead when it comes to communications through the mass adoption of mobile phones – a much cheaper option than trying to provide telephone wires and cables across the continent – so it could also bypass the burdensome costs of providing electricity mains to everyone by turning to smaller electricity generation technologies such as solar power. This is called “off-grid” electricity.

The UN has set the goal of universal access to modern energy services by 2030. A report issued in April 2010 by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC) calls for expanding energy access to more than 2 billion people (http://www.unido.org/fileadmin/user_media/Publications/download/AGECCsummaryreport.pdf).

The report found that a lack of access to modern energy services represents a significant barrier to development. Some 1.6 billion people still lack access to electricity.

A reliable, affordable energy supply, the report says, is the key to economic growth and the achievement of the anti-poverty targets contained in the Millennium Development Goals.

When a person has electricity and the lighting it powers, it is possible to do business and study late into the night. Electric lighting also makes streets and living areas safer. Electricity can power a plethora of labour-saving and life-enhancing consumer goods: televisions, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners and fans, washing machines, clothes dryers, computers. And electricity recharges that most essential item, the mobile phone, on which millions rely to do their daily business.

After witnessing the struggle African health clinics have to access electricity, a Nairobi, Kenya-based company has developed a simple solution to ensure a steady supply of solar electricity. One Degree Solar’s (http://onedegreesolar.com/) founder, Gaurav Manchanda, developed and sells the BrightBox solar-charging system for lights, mobile phones, tablet computers and radios.

He first gained experience working in the West African nation of Liberia with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (http://www.clintonfoundation.org/main/our-work/by-initiative/clinton-health-access-initiative/about.html). Working at the country’s Ministry of Health, he found most health clinics operated without electricity.

He identified solar power as the only viable energy source. Trying to deliver fuel to power generators by the road network had two impediments: the diesel fuel was expensive and the road conditions were poor.

After seeing that large solar-power systems required significant maintenance and upkeep, he started to explore the possibility of low-cost, and simple-to-use solar electricity products that would be useful to community healthcare workers.

This became the beginning of One Degree Solar and its mission.

The company’s main product is the BrightBox, a cleverly designed solar charger. A bright orange box with a folding, aluminum handle at the top for easy carrying, it switches on and off simply with a bright red button. It has a waterproof solar panel. The BrightBox has USB (universal service bus) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus) ports so that mobile phones and radios can be plugged in. It is also possible to plug in four lights at once with the four outports on the side of the box.

It meets the standards set by the Lighting Africa initiative (http://lightingafrica.org/specs/one-degree-brightbox-2-.html) of the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank.

One Degree Solar claim it is possible to set up a BrightBox in 10 minutes. When the indicator light has turned green, the box is fully charged and capable of providing 40 hours of light.

A full charge can power two light bulbs for 20 hours. Manchanda told How We Made It In Africa (http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/) that he has sold 4,000 units of the BrightBox since its launch in October 2012.

According to The Nation, the BrightBox is currently retailing in Kenya for Kenyan shillings 7,000 (US $82).

One Degree Solar’s product range is sold to local resellers and distributors. The products are designed to be repaired using locally sourced parts and can be fixed by local electricians.

Most of the sales so far have been in Kenya but the firm has also sold units to other countries.

Testimonials on the BrightBox website tell of the transformation to people’s lives the clean energy source makes: “BrightBox has helped us in so many ways! We used to spend 800 Shillings (US $9.50) a month for two paraffin lanterns. The fumes smelled and always made us feel sick.”

Manchanda is a strong believer in Africa’s potential and its future and dismisses those who are negative about the continent.

“That was not a holistic assessment, but rather, an unnecessary and damaging generalization,” he told How We Made It In Africa. “Fortunately, most news outlets in Africa are now available online and offer a wider range of perspectives. The middle class is booming in certain countries. We have seen the success of mobile phones in enabling people to access other services. I think hope and progress come with innovation. Technology access has helped create entirely new markets and reach populations that otherwise could have taken decades to service with traditional approaches.

“India was in a similar space 15 years ago before the Internet boom, and today parts of Nairobi (Kenya) are just like Delhi (India): people have a cell phone or two, there are large shopping malls, a booming middle class, and new construction everywhere.”

Resources

Global Off-Grid Lighting Association: Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) has been established to act as the industry advocate with a focus on small and medium enterprises. It is a neutral, independent, not-for-profit association created to promote lighting solutions that benefit society and businesses in developing and emerging markets. GOGLA will support industry in the market penetration of clean, quality alternative lighting systems. Website: http://globaloff-gridlightingassociation.org/

Solar Sister: Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. Website: http://www.solarsister.org/

Solarpod: Sunbird Solar/Thousand Suns manufactures, sources and distributes the portable solar generator range. Website: http://www.thousandsuns.com/

4) Little Sun: An attractive, high-quality solar-powered lamp in the shape of a hand-sized sun developed by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen. Website: http://www.littlesun.com/

Southern Innovator logo

London Edit

31 July 2013

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s