Solar is the future of Africa: Simon Mwacharo gave a wonderful talk today at TED. His company is Craftskills.
He pointed out the challenges of getting power to rural areas, these being
- Cost of transmission
- Virtually no government acknowledgment and participation in encouraging renewable energy in the last few years.
- Previous erroneous pairing of low rpm batteries with solar panels that resulted in a failed system. This made people skeptical of wind and solar systems for awhile.
For example, it takes about Ksh 100 for a rural person to go to a place that has power in order to charge their cellphone. This need not be the case at all, because battery charging stations can be set up in close proximity to most people in rural areas. His company has set up systems in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Cameroon and in the near future ivory coast. (White African asked the question about which countries his companies have been working in).
He had a powerful graph showing how 85% of Kenya (africa?) is not connected to the grid. The striking thing about Mr. Mwacharo’s company is the use of locally available materials and labor to create the systems. The inverters are made at a local university, the wiring and set up of the systems is done in his backyard. The fiberglass is locally cast though he imports the solar panels and magnets from China. His is a company that completely localizes renewable energy to provide power in a simple yet elegant way. Use of wind, complemented by solar and higher efficiency LED lights make this a very nimble system for off grid power provision.
During the q and a session, A gentleman asked a question whether netmetering is possible such that a hygrid (Grid tied solar sys) is possible, where excess energy generate by the homes can be sold back to the power company. Mwacharo answered by pointing out that the systems his company has deployed so far are not necessarily grid tied at this time, they are still off grid and not integrated.
I think that Mr. Mwacharo’s talk is very important for Africa, because it exemplifies that solutions to the ‘dark continent’ lie in the backyard of Africa’s homes and the universities in Africa. Bridging the ‘lighting gap’ is possible without continuing reliance on fossil fuels but with african ingenuity such as what he has shown us today.
Note that Yidris Mohammed has pointed out the the next big opportunity in Africa is the generation of power. Can we as Africans be so bold as to aspire for a grid tied system that can light up our continent in a clean, efficient and economically enhancing way? I firmly and resolutely believe so. It makes sense, and yes, Africa deserves to be brilliant. Not just light, but brilliant.
Thank you Mr. Mwacharo! For writing the first chapter in the energy transformation of Africa.