Who would have imagined an internship with an oil company in the Niger Delta could lead to a solar startup? For Ifeanyi Orajaka, Chuka Eze and Ikechukwu Onyekwelu, it turned out to be just that.
In their 20s, they are the co-founders of Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Limited —a company that has been providing electricity access to remote and rural parts of Nigeria through solar photo voltaic (PV) solar mini grids since 2012.
The trio began their journey in 2006 while they were interns at Shell Petroleum Company in the Niger Delta. Their work took them to remote villages, where people still lived without electricity access, despite being in an oil-rich region. These communities relied on kerosene lamps and candles for light and had to go to the village market to charge their mobile phones.
Evaluating the optimal way to expand electricity access across a country is difficult, especially in countries where energy related data is scarce and not centralized. Geospatial plans informing universal electricity access strategies and investments can easily take 18 to 24 months to complete.
A team working on a national electrification plan for Zambia last December did not have that much time.
They faced a six-month deadline to develop a plan, or they would miss out on a funding window, said Jenny Hasselsten, an energy specialist at the World Bank brought in to help with the electrification project in partnership with the government of Zambia.
Elisha Thomas Laizer owns a small stationery store that provides photocopying and printing services in Kitumbeine, a Maasai village 150 km (93http://www.esmap.org mi) from the Tanzanian city of Arusha.
Kitumbeine is also 40 km (25 mi) from the nearest electricity grid.
But that hasn’t stopped Elisha. That’s because his store is actually inside a 16 KW mini grid container, under the shade of 60 solar panels. While such easy access to solar power has helped his business tremendously, it has also gifted him with a chance to learn to operate and maintain these mini grids. Consequently, he now acts as a liaison between his community and the solar company that helps set up these grids in remote Tanzanian villages that are starved for electricity.
Elisha’s story is a great example of how the sun paves the way for way more than just turning on a light bulb.
“If there is one thing that could really help my business, it would be reliable power supply,” said David, a small business owner in Lagos, on my recent trip to Nigeria.
“I agree. If only …,” echoed another.
Worryingly, the rate of access has been increasing at a mere 5 percentage points every decade, against population growth of 29 percent. If something is not done to dramatically change this trend, Africa will not see universal access to electricity in the 21st century. This is a seriously worrying prospect as the world races toward a 2030 deadline of universal access to electricity.
Zambia’s solar auction result followed a series of headline-making auctions in India, Mexico, Peru, and Dubai. In Dubai’s case, the price was as low as 3 cents/kWh -- the lowest price ever offered for solar power. Solar auctions are effectively a competitive bidding process to build power plants and supply a specific quantity of electricity at a pre-agreed price over a specified period of time.
Much work remains to be done to ensure reliable electricity access for Africa's citizens. A number of complications are making it difficult to achieve this UN Sustainable Development Goal. Yet access rates are expanding in many nations, and technology and design improvements offer opportunities to make rapid leaps forward.
This number cannot be emphasized enough – more than 1 billion people around the world live without access to electricity, and 2.9 billion still cook with polluting, harmful fuel like firewood and dung.
As we celebrate Earth Day, we're looking at the ways to bring energy access to those communities and transform lives, and at the same time, protect our planet’s resources. How can we make sure that the right progress for communities is the right progress for the planet?
The good news is that the world is constantly coming up with new technology to address this challenge. We have portable, phone-charging solar lamps and energy efficient cookstoves that are affordable and practical for communities living off-the-grid. The challenge now is how to make sure the right technologies are available in affordable and sustainable ways to the communities that need them most.
Solar Sister is a social enterprise that recruits, trains, and supports African women launch clean-energy businesses in their communities, selling lights and cookstoves to their neighbors. We are organized around the principle that women must be intentionally included in discussions around energy.
One of the most important findings noted at the Africa launch of the World Bank's Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015 (GTF) report for the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, is that despite recent trends to increase investment in the energy sector, we still need to double the number of new connections to modern energy services per year to reach universal access to energy by 2030.
Universalizing access to clean, modern energy services is at the heart of our ability to deliver on the new globally agreed sustainable development goals and climate agreements. Knowing this, the panel of experts discussing the findings of the report at the Africa Energy Indaba was asked a key question by Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director of the Bank's Energy and Extractives Global Practice - did we think achieving the universal access goal was possible in just a decade and a half?
Government representatives express their frustration for not having benefited enough during the boom. Policymakers lament the lack of planning that has left their countries with no cushion in their budgets, and companies are looking to cut costs so they can weather the storm. And most importantly, communities are feeling the economic impact as mines purchase less local supplies, generate fewer jobs and halt some operations.
Not only are things slowing down, but it seems a golden opportunity has passed us by. Fatima Denton, Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, highlighted that Africa is less industrialized today than it was in 1990. After the minerals super cycle of 2000-2013, the percentage of manufacturing of African economies actually declined from 12% to 11%.
So, how can we determine and identify who has electricity and who doesn’t? What if we had the technology and tools to help us see lights from space every night, for every village, in every country? We could then closely monitor progress on the ground. We could even plan and optimize policies and interventions in a different manner.