Leverage on the sun energy to address energy poverty in Africa

633 million people lack access to electricity while 792 million others rely on traditional biomass as their primary energy source for cooking

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Mr. Dhaval Radia, Senior Vice President at Greenlight Planet

Access to safe energy is undoubtedly a fundamental welfare to human beings without which, households are forced to rely on the easily available polluting and dangerous sources of energy.

An oxfam survey reports that energy poverty presents a serious challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, despite longstanding efforts to address it. That in 2014, 633 million people lacked access to electricity and 792 million people relied on traditional biomass as their primary energy source for cooking. This results to drudgery, poisoning, fires, burns, limited economic opportunity, and premature death due to respiratory diseases.

“Whereas developing Asia contains the largest number of people without access to modern cooking facilities, sub-Saharan Africa contains the largest number without access to electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa is also home to the largest number of countries with the lowest rates of electrification and has the highest rates of people forced to cook using traditional biomass,” reads the report in part.

While the task of addressing the energy poverty seems daunting, alternative renewable energy technologies such as solar are creating new possibilities for achieving widespread energy access in Africa.

Mwezi Limited together with Greenlight Planet solars penned a partnership deal, to provide solar products and services that will improve the health, wealth, education and environmental impact to their customers in Kenya and developing Africa, for a complete overhaul of the traditional and unsafe sources of energy.

“We realized an opportunity to replace the ubiquitous kerosene lamps used by every off-grid home in sub-saharan Africa with a more reliable, affordable, and cleaner lighting product,” said Dhaval Radia, the Global Commercial Head and Senior Vice President at Greenlight Planet during an interview with CIO East Africa.

The realization that solar energy could power such a solution as Radia notes, compelled Sun King solar-powered lanterns to be developed by Greenlight Planet, about a decade ago, as replacement to kerosene lamps so as to serve the underserved population with access to clean and reliable energy.

“We build a network of local community-based branches and partner with best manufacturers to enhance access to alternative energy sources to our clients. We partnered with a mission to provide products and services that improve the health, wealth, education and environmental impact of our customers,” noted Mike Sherry, the Founder and CEO of Mwezi Limited.

Since inception, Greenlight Planet has sold about 10 million clean energy products around the world, impacting on more than 45 million beneficiaries by enabling access to basic energy that has life-changing consequences.

Mike Sherry, Founder and CEO Mwezi Limited

“We often see that there aren’t enough daylight hours to allow children in rural areas the study time necessary to succeed or businesses to run after sunset. Sun King solar solutions give back 3 hours of productive time each night giving beneficiaries a 75% increase in study time for children. Additionally, small businesses are able to stay open longer, increasing their monthly income by roughly 25% on average,” added Radia.

Using clean energy systems decreases a household’s dependence on kerosene and improves the quality of air people inhale.

Leveraging on technologies like Photovoltaics (PV), Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), which uses heat from the sun (thermal energy) to drive utility-scale, electric turbines and Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC), the solar generation systems are designed to provide electricity using solar panels and small batteries to both isolated and clustered households focusing on distributed renewable energy that are cheaper, faster to deploy, and not reliant on the power utilities that have served African countries so poorly in
the past.

The partnership enables for opportunities through EasyBuy, a direct distribution channel that allows field agents called Sun King Energy Officers, to directly distribute products to rural households in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The mission of the wide reach as intended, is to mitigate the local emissions from large, centralized, fossil fuel–burning power stations, which currently impose major health costs on communities in developing and under-developed countries and to encourage a friendlier pay-as-you-go payment model.

“Rural households do not have the capital to pay for the entire cost of a solar home system upfront. So we use our expertise in financing technology in a pay-as-you-go technology embedded in our products and facilitated by distributors so that the rural customers can pay for their products in small installments over time through mobile money payments,” Sherry avered.

Power Africa’s recent report ‘Beyond the Grid’ report that two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. Such off-grid solar sector initiatives are thus vital in enabling access to alternative energy sources to eradicate energy poverty as prevalent in Africa.

“Industries like agriculture, telecoms, microfinance institutions, and even solar distributors like Mwezi, that work in the areas that need clean energy access prove to be the perfect fit and are extremely ripe for collaborations with product companies like us,” adds Radia. “Development is not a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ approach – it needs an entire ecosystem using heuristic approaches to imagine a Sub-Saharan land with access to energy for all.”

Both appreciate that there is more that needs to be done to address energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, they vow that this partnership can only advance over the years, to continue leveraging on the local distribution strengths to further their visibility into the deeper rurals of Africa.

“With such a sustainable partnership, we hope to expand to more geographical locations and be a part of communities off-the-grid, helping them move up the energy ladder,” concludes Radia.

Kerosene is an expensive, dangerous and environmentally harmful fossil fuel, the cumulative effect of 1.6 billion people using kerosene and other biofuels for lighting contributes heavily to global carbon emissions Sherry notes.

“The mostly commonly cited estimate for the use of kerosene for lighting likely accounts for 100-150 million tonnes of COemissions.  Furthermore, nascent research suggests that the impact of Black Carbon, formed from incomplete combustion of fossil and bio-fuels and also commonly referred to as soot, could be a major source of warming in the lower atmosphere and play a strong role in the melting of glacial regions,” he points out.

The health implications of fuel-based lighting are two-fold: chronic illness due to indoor air pollution and risk of injury due to flammable mature of the fuel used.  Kerosene lamps emit fine particles that are a major source of air pollution because they quickly become lodged in the bronchial system and can result in chronic disease and death.

A study estimates that individuals breathing particulate-laden kerosene fumes inhale the toxic equivalent of smoke from two packs of cigarettes a day.  In addition to toxic fumes from kerosene lamps, the danger of the hazard of fire and ensuing risk to life and property is substantial.  In India alone, 2.5 million people suffer severe burns due to overturned kerosene lamps annually.

The greater vision is to replace all kerosene lamps with solar lanterns and to adress the larger problem of energy poverty in Africa.

 

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