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Innovators that could light up Africa

Daniel Kammen's picture

Everyone talks about the crisis of energy access – the 2.7 billion people who use wood and other solid fuels, and the 1.5 billion without access to electricity – but who is doing something about it?

At the African Energy Ministerial Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, today, both high-level planning and on-the-ground energy projects were visible, and truly inspiring. In a five hour Green Household Energy Solutions Expo that I had the true pleasure to chair, the Minister of Economic Development for South Africa, Mr. Ebrahim Patel, kicked off the discussion by saying that South Africa was committed to growing nation’s clean energy generation capacity for both domestic use and for export and in the process create green jobs.

The meeting marks a key chance for integration and coordination as the last regional ministerial meeting before the COP17 Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa in December of this year. The room was packed, with over 15 ministers in attendance, and the discussion turned to the benefits of regional integration of transmission systems, building wind, geothermal, and large-scale solar energy projects.

However, the focus and the stars of the meeting were the innovators at the household and local community level who showed the possibilities that exist with a range of new approaches – some technological but many managerial and social as well.

Ron Bills of Envirofit, a producer of high efficiency woodstoves said: “We have sold 300,000 stoves, and can provide high quality stoves to scale up clean energy cooking markets anywhere!” 

Bill Farmer of the Uganda Carbon Bureau highlighted how global climate and carbon funds can be aggregated to support a range of stove and household energy projects. Joyce DeMucci of Barefoot power documented how community groups can take the lead in identifying local needs and working with entrepreneurs to bring the right technologies to women to address their needs. She also highlighted the lack of women leaders in the entrepreneurial space, even though many of the household solar and improved biomass technologies are targeted at women customers. Ologubo, Chief Executive Officer of Toyola Energy Ltd. of Ghana reminded everyone that what local innovators needs is “financing, financing, financing!”

Booths demonstrated a truly wide range of stove and solar lantern technologies. This is where things really came alive, because it was clear from the outset that the range of solar lanterns, improved stoves, and sustainable fuel ‘green charcoal’, waste fuel, and other products were matched by the diversity of approaches to financing and disseminating these products.

The World Bank is one of many core members of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves which has brought together and built an important results-oriented network of stove researchers, practitioners, and customers. The World Bank/IFC jointly manage the Lighting Africa program, and the managers of the program, Kate Steel and Dana Rysankova, introduced everyone to exceptionally talented country managers from both East and West Africa. Lighting Africa’s objective is to transition the off-grid lighting market from fossil fuels to clean alternatives, such as solar LED lights. This rapidly evolving technology promises cost-effective, clean and safe lighting solutions for the base of the pyramid consumers, covering their primary electricity needs, including lighting and cell phone charging, at prices comparable or lower than their current expenses for kerosene.

Ismael Toure, Director General of Malian Agency for Household Energy and Rural Electrification (AMADER), highlighted how customers for household energy products need the best of outreach and product support from the companies that supply them, and yet the least well supported customers were the poorest.

For years household energy has been cited as important and identified as a place where energy choices directly impact health and children’s opportunities for schooling. At this meeting, the business opportunities in clean energy and the needs of nations to meet the energy access gap were clear, as was the call for targeted lending and grants to build markets to meet the needs of a continent with the lowest rate of electrification in the world.