Solar power: the fix for Africa's frustration with the grid?
As solar power becomes more affordable and efficient, it could spread in Africa, much in the way cell phones took over without widespread infrastructure, writes guest blogger Alex Thurston.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.Skip to next paragraph
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This is another post where I get myself into trouble by venturing into a new area – infrastructure, in this case – but this post from the environmentalist blog Treehugger caught my eye:
In Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, a pair of US-born entrepreneurs is creating a new model for energy delivery to villages far from the grid. The founders of Mera Gao Power build and operate solar-powered micro grids to provide low-cost lighting and mobile phone charging to village houses, giving many rural people access to both light and power for the first time in their lives.
Mera Gao Power’s low energy design calls for just four solar panels for each system, which are sufficient to supply a village of 100 households with both light and mobile charging. And because most light is used at night, but generated during the day, banks of four batteries are used to store up to two days of power are also installed near the panels. Power is then distributed from the batteries to the other households in the village.
“Micro” strikes me as the key word in that passage.
If India, why not Africa?
Electrifying rural areas poses unique challenges for African governments. Remote and scattered, rural homes, unlike homes in urban areas, are costly and often impractical to connect to the grid. Under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), countries are seeking innovative alternatives to give rural families efficient means to cook their food and light their homes. Stand-alone sources of energy, such as solar, wind and mini-hydro generators, can help fill the gap.
In the early 1990s, numerous villages turned to solar power in parts of Africa where one might least expect to stumble upon an oasis of lights shimmering in the pitch-black night. Perhaps the most ambitious project of this nature, and one that is often cited, is a Zimbabwean project supported by UNDP through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The initiative, jointly funded by GEF ($7 mn) and Zimbabwe ($400,000), installed some 9,000 solar power systems throughout the country in a bid to improve living standards, but also to curtail land degradation and pollution.