Webinar: Closing the Gap – bridging research and practice in energy access

In September 2017, the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network (LCEDN) held its annual conference on the topic of “Equity and Energy Justice” at Durham University, UK. As a follow-up to this conference, we are holding two webinars to share highlights from the conference.

The first webinar focussed on energy justice. This month, we will examine a second theme from the conference, and focus on questions of how academic research can best have impact at the grassroots of energy access and productive use, how that “knowledge gap” can be closed, and what some of the most effective solutions might be for ensuring that research can be applied effectively and equitably.

This month, we’ll be joined by Practical Action’s Sarah Begg, who has been leading a participatory learning study with LCEDN looking at how academic research impacts the grassroots. She will be joined by her colleague from Practical Action’s Bangladesh office, Iffat Khan, who will present some of the specific outcomes and experiences of the study in Bangladesh. Finally, the Smart Villages Initiative will share the global perspectives they have been able to gather on bridging academic research and making it relevant to energy access practitioners, entrepreneurs, and rural communities.

Join us for this exciting and important webinar, with the following speakers. Click below to access their presentations.


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/december-2017-webinar-closing-the-gap/

The Smart Villages Initiative: Findings 2014-2017

Findings Report 2014-2017
2014-2017 Findings Report

In the Smart Villages concept, the provision of sustainable energy services to rural communities, in turn enabling the connectivity made possible by modern information and communication technologies, can have a catalytic impact on the lives of villagers when appropriately integrated with other rural development initiatives. Smart villages provide many of the benefits of 21st Century life to rural communities, and reflect a level of rural development consistent with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The aim of the Smart Villages Initiative over the period 2014-2017 was to identify the framework conditions necessary for the provision of energy services to villages to enable the livelihood opportunities, provision of services (healthcare, education, clean water, and sanitation) and empowerment embodied in the Smart Villages concept.

This report summarises the findings and recommendations arising from the work of the Smart Villages Initiative over the three years, which has included a series of 26 workshops and capacity building events in six regions (East and West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, South America, and Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico) involving frontline workers (entrepreneurs, NGOs, development organisations, villagers and civil society organisations), policy makers and regulators, the finance community, and international experts in science, engineering, and the humanities. These workshops in the regions have been complemented by competitions, webinars, impact studies, media and Forward Look workshops, and reviews of the literature.

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/smart-villages-findings/

Smart Villages News 152 – Energy, health and leapfrogging in Africa

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Dear Subscriber,

While the Smart Villages Initiative is delighted to be quoted in this week’s Economist article on energy leapfrogging in Africa, there are a noteworthy number of articles this week about energising health provision as well.

In a city or town, the obvious thing to do if somebody gets sick is for them to go and see a doctor, perhaps in a hospital, although of course affordability of healthcare remains a global problem. Getting sick in a rural area, or simply needing medical help (for example, during childbirth) is much worse, because it often means that there is no doctor or medical facility nearby. Just to travel to a place with a clinic may require a significant investment in time and money, and this situation leads to a terrible dilemma. This cost could be economically crippling to the household and increase its vulnerability to other adversities, but the alternative may be losing a loved one to something that may have been preventable and/or treatable. Over 400 million people lack access to essential health services, particularly in rural areas. Yet, everybody agrees access to primary healthcare is a basic human right.

The provision of healthcare in rural areas in developing countries faces several problems, which include lack of basic infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, clean water and sanitation; limited education; and the fact that medical professionals, in particular advanced practitioners, tend to concentrate in urban centres. One strategy often pursued by governments is to deploy community health workers, or enlist self-help groups (such as women’s groups in this example in Ethiopia), which can be an effective way of sharing information on how to prevent infectious diseases, improve mother and child’s health and reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases. Critically, impact requires simultaneously targeting other underlying causes of poor health, for example, low agricultural productivity (linked to poverty) and inadequate child nutrition, and lack of sanitation. In other words, what is needed are increased investments in rural development and effective reforms.

Having no access to electricity affects health provision at multiple levels: from the obvious problems that result from the lack of light during night time births and the inability to keep vaccines and medicines cold, to the difficulty of attracting and keeping health professionals in off-grid areas. On the other hand, innovations in eHealth -healthcare provision enabled by electronic processes and communication – are revolutionising the sector. We feature three news items on this topic this week.

The first is press release of the Cooperation Agreement between the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which was signed in Geneva at the end of last month, to use digital services for saving lives and improving people’s health. The second news article describes how telemedicine and artificial intelligence have enabled health tech platforms to emerge in Africa, a continent where many countries have less than one physician per 10,000 people. While it would be easier to suppose that most innovations rely on mobile phone technology, the third news article featured today contradicts this assumption. According to the Exploring the African E-health Startup Ecosystem Report 2017, released by Disrupt Africa, 115 e-health startups are currently operating in 20 countries across the continent. Of these, only 44% reach their customers by using mobile phones.

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
Africa Might Leapfrog Straight To Cheap Renewable Electricity And Minigrids
WHEN SATELLITES TRAIN their cameras onto Africa at night, it is almost as if they are peering back to an age before electricity. The rich world is awash with great glowing orbs for the main population centres and orange tentacles for the roads that link them. But apart from speckles of light around the biggest cities, much of Africa is dark. […]

Economist (09.11.17)

WHO And ITU To Use Digital Technology To Strengthen Public Health Services In Africa
With Africa currently undergoing a digital revolution, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) today signed a Cooperation Agreement in Geneva, on using digital services to save lives and improve people’s health. […]

Reliefweb (26.10.17)

How AI Can Help Africa Get Universal Health Care Before America
While American politicians quarrel over the Affordable Care Act, the United States—one of the few industrialized countries without universal health care—still spends twice as much per person per year on health expenses as the U.K. and Canada. For all the debates over Obamacare, however, America boasts 38 MRI machines per one million people: Nigeria, a country of 180 million people, has only four. Across Africa, the ratio of doctors to patients is painfully low. The continent accounts for 25 percent of global disease cases, but has only 2-3 percent of the doctors in the world. […]

Adebayo Alonge – Newsweek (30.10.17)

African E-Health Startups Multiply But Shun Mobile
The number of e-health startups active in Africa is accelerating continent-wide, but contrary to popular assumptions the majority of these ventures do not leverage mobile phones.According to the High Tech Health: Exploring the African E-health Startup Ecosystem Report 2017, released by Disrupt Africa today, 115 e-health startups are currently operating in 20 countries across Africa. […]

Gabriella Mulligan – DisruptAfrica (23.10.17)


Technical Report

Making Smart Villages a Reality
Smart Villages

Technical Report

Indigenous communities, ICT and rural development – case studies
Smart Villages

Workshop Report

Smart Villages in Haiti – a report from ObservEH’s Energy Week
Smart Villages


Nigeria: Investment Firm Invests In Off-Grid Energy Business Models
Esi-Africa (17.11.17)Cameroon Solar Scheme With Huawei Globally Lauded
Rosy Sadou – CajNewsAfricaElectricity Spurs Economic Growth
Choolwe Kasamu – Daily-mail (17.11.17)Unlocking An Energy Revolution In Ethiopia With Lessons From The Black Market
Mohit Anand – Greentechmedia (16.11.17)African Governments And Off-Grid Energy Industry Take Steps To Accelerate Progress Towards Universal Energy Access
allAfrica (16.11.17)

Off-Grid Solar Startup Expands To Ivory Coast
Asaf Shalev – Calcalitech (15.11.17)


Acciona To Take Power To Off-Grid Mexican Villages
The Construction Index (17.11.17)Solar Energy ‘Like Light From Heaven’ For Rural Nicaragua
Margaret Ward – IrishTimes (13.11.17)

After The Storms, It’s Microgrid Season In The Caribbean
Cassandra Sweet – Greenbiz (15.11.17)

SDGs and Global Development

Turning Up The Volume: Five Insights Into Aggregating Finance For Expanding Off Grid Energy Investment
Clare Shakya, Rebecca Byrnes – iied (03.11.17)COP23 Side Events Address Leadership Of Island States, Clean Energy Access For Women: 15 November Highlights
Leila Mail – sdg iisd (15.11.17)

Keeping One Billion People In The Dark Costs Poor Countries Dear: Study
Megan Rowling – Reuters (16.11.17)

Science & Technology

CNREC Advises Reform And Increased Re Targets In China
Mark Hutchins – Pv-Magazine (10.11.17)Battery Boom Hears Off-Grid Demand: BYD 
EcogenerationDistributed Disruptions In The Energy Sector
François Austin – BrinkNews (16.11.17)Filipino-French Joint Venture Optimistic On San Bernandino Strait Tidal Project
Alena Mae S. Flores – ManilaStandard (13.11.17)


Centre Launches Online Portal For Real-Time Monitoring Of Household Electrification
Anupama Airy – SwarajyaChildren Take To The Palette To Promote Energy Conservation
TheHindu (17.11.17)

Seven Golaghat District Villages Provided Solar Lights By NRL 

Kumar Urges Developed Nations To Earmark Aid For Solar Energy
IndiaToday (14.11.17)

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/smart-villages-news-152-energy-health-leapfrogging-africa/

Smart Villages News 151 – Energy, Finance and the World Food Prize

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Dear Subscriber,

On October 19th, Nigerian Akinwumi Adesina was awarded the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines. The prize honours the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

Why did Adesina win? The current president of the African Development Bank has been recognised for his efforts to transform African agriculture in the last two decades to increase productivity, in roles with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and as Minister of Agriculture of Nigeria. Perhaps the most innovative intervention was the establishment of an e-wallet system for smallholder farmers in Nigeria, for the direct delivery of subsidized electronic vouchers for inputs to the farmers’ mobile phones. These vouchers can be used like cash to purchase fertiliser and other agricultural inputs directly from agro-dealers. The system, the first of its kind, aimed at reducing corruption in the distribution of fertiliser subsidies, since previously only a small proportion of the funds allocated was actually reaching farmers. The success of the e-wallet system in Nigeria, credited to benefit 40 million farmers, inspired the creation of similar initiatives in Kenya and Uganda.

And the spirit of innovation has spread further. The call by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) to submit proposals for digital innovations promoting financial inclusion in the African continent resulted in over 200 responses. While Kenya comes first in the number of submitted proposals, 25 other African countries also participated in the call. About half of the innovations addressed a specific market sector, with small and medium enterprises and farmers topping the list.

While the value of these innovations is unquestionable, it is important to reflect on the fact that despite huge increases in the rate of penetration of mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa, less than 20% of the rural population in the continent has access to electricity, which limits their potential benefit. True progress with therefore require better integration between agricultural development and access to fair and sustainable energy sources for the rural population, who after all grow the majority of the food on the continent!

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
Off-Grid Electricity Projects Are Starved For Funds
Despite innovative off-grid technology and high-profile initiatives, electrification in sub-Saharan Africa still trails population growth. In 2009 there were 585 million people in the region without power. Five years later, that figure had risen to 632 million, according to the latest International Energy Agency statistics. […]

Peter Fairley – Spectrum (23.10.17)India Has World’s Largest Electricity Access Deficit: World Bank
India alone has a little less than one-third of the global deficit (270 million for electricity), followed by Nigeria and Ethiopia for electricity—and the 20 highest access-deficit countries for electricity account for 80 percent of the global deficit, said a World Bank report. […]

Governancenow (31.10.17)The Story Behind The ‘Three Forgotten Villages’
Most of you reading this post know me as an environmentalist who is also very passionate about renewable energy. In the past 2-3 years, I have focused my work in areas that are ignored by majority of players in the energy sector— off-grid communities in rural centers and villages. My convictions are: first, solar lighting solutions make more socio-economic sense in villages than bulk grid infrastructure, and second, the social capital and human potential in rural areas are so vast to be ignored. I have therefore made efforts to visit as many villages as possible to learn about what can work there with solar. […]

Gideon Commey – ModernGhana (24.10.17)Minigrids In Tanzania ‘Offer Lessons’ For Electrification Of Africa
Lessons from a comprehensive study of minigrids in Tanzania could help to speed up their deployment in sub-Saharan Africa. So concludes a report from the Tanzania Traditional Energy Development Organisation (TaTEDO) and World Resources Institute (WRI) on the first major survey of the country’s minigrid sector.Minigrids are small-scale electricity generation and distribution systems of less than 10 megawatts (MW). […]

Catharine Paddock – MarketBusinessNews (21.10.17)

The Smart Villages Initiative

Findings 2014-2017
Smart Villages

Smart Villages – a pocket guide

New! Smart Villages “pocket guide” to rural energy & smart villages
Smart Villages

Webinars – Watch on Demand!

Latest webinar: Perspectives on Energy Justice
Smart Villages


Nigeria Enhances Rural Electrification Through Solar
ESI-Africa (31.10.17)Archbishop Welby’s Comment Leads To Development Of African Solar Project
Anglicannews (01.11.17)Zambian President Calls On International Community To Scale-Up Assistance To Congolese Refugees
ReliefWeb (31.10.17)Rwanda’s Energy Strategy To Benefit From The Use Of Robust Analytical Tools
Laura Gil – IAEA (31.10.17)

Ethiopia Scaling Up Endeavor Of Green Development
Fekadu W. – WaltaInfo (30.10.17)

First Hybrid Solar Plant Comes On Stream In Sari, Iran
MEHR (30.10.17)

Empowered To Skip The Grid: Renewable Energy Org Makes Global Connections
Chelsey Perkins – BrainedDispatch (29.10.17)

BBOXX Finalizes $5 Million Finance Deal
Frederic Brown – PV-Magazine (27.10.17)

PEG Raises Us$13.5 Million For Off-Grid Home Solar In West Africa
Amanda Lennon – Pv-Tech (26.10.17)


Peru Gov’t To Provide Full Water And Electricity Coverage
Andina (27.10.17) World Bank Approves Funds For Electricity Project In Haiti
JamaicaObserver (27.10.17)Puerto Rico’s Solar Future Takes Shape At Children’S Hospital, With Tesla Batteries
Lyndsey Gilpin – InsideClimateNews (25.10.17)Acciona To Build New Power Transmission Infrastructure In Mexico For 21Mn Euros
Bnamericas (23.10.17)

SDGs and Global Development

Practical Action Launch 2017 PPEO Energy Access Finance Report
Practical Action (11.10.17)UNFCCC “Shines A Light” On Climate Projects Focused On Women, ICTs And Finance
Leila Mead – SDG (03.10.17)Energy News: Partnerships And Tools On Clean Energy Aim To Contribute To Multiple SDGs
SDG (03.10.17)Rethinking The Cost Of Off-Grid Power: Let’s Do The Math
Andrew M. Herscowitz – Sun-connect

Science & Technology

Three Tech Breakthroughs That Will Help Transform The World
Bill Joy – TheWashingtonPost (31.10.17)India’s EESL To Install 300 Mw Of Domestically Produced Pv Modules
Straish – Pv-Magazine (25.10.17)Where There Is Gravity, Let There Be Light
National-geographic (31.10.17)


India Must Encourage Hydro Power Projects Development: R K Singh
Anisha Dutta – Energyworld (31.10.17)Samoa Is Ready To Impress With Launch Of Large-Scale Renewable Energy Project
Reliefweb (31.10.17)Fiji Villagers To Wait A Bit Longer For Electricity
Kalesi Mele – Fijitimes (31.10.17)Our Mini-Grids Are Driving Socio-Economic Change Across 106 Villages: Jaideep Mukherji, CEO, Smart Power India
EnergyWorld (25.10.17)

Schneider Electric And Engie Take Next Step On Southeast Asia’S Largest Hybrid Microgrid

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/smart-villages-news-151-energy-finance-world-food-prize/

Smart Villages News 150 – Local Championship and Rural Smartness

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Dear Subscriber,

Two things have caught our interest this edition. The first is the importance of local championship of energy access and rural development issues. So often we focus on reports, technical developments and calls to action which emanate from donor countries. But for real change and sustainability, leadership needs to be local. This was one reason why we at Smart Villages have worked with and learned from local media and NGOs around the world over the last three years. Our top stories this week are from newspapers and NGOs reporting on activities in their own countries in their own words and addressing local priorities, and demonstrating graphically the power of decentralised off-grid energy solutions to impact community development and resilience in the face of natural disasters.

The second is two articles we share below in our “Americas” section. Both of them concern rural development and sustainability issues in the United States of America, and demonstrate both the need and value of looking beyond just Smart Cities to the sustainability and empowerment of rural communities. The conclusions drawn are even more important to rural communities in the developing world.

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
How Solar Energy Is Helping Brighten Childbirth In Rural Zimbabwe
Juliet Chasamuka, 34, was six months pregnant when I met her in the Gutu district of Masvingo, a rural community 300 kilometres south of Harare, Zimbabwe. The now mother of five has had many different experiences when giving birth. […]

Sally Nyakanyanga – Discoursemedia (26.09.17)How Solar Power Is Positively Lighting Life In Rural Tanzania
As the time was approaching 7pm, the bulb light enables Telesia to prepare dinner for her family. There is no electricity from the national grid in this village of Namikango A in Nachingwea District but in every three out four houses there is one or more bulbs lighting the houses both inside and outside. […]

Nuzulack Dausen – TheCitizen (10.09.17)

Kopernik Continues Its Support To The 138,000 People Evacuated During The Mount Agung Response.
The Mount Agung Emergency Response is a joint community effort coordinated by Kopernik, IDEP, Bumi Sehat, Rio Helmi, Rucina Ballinger, Bali ZEN and the Green School parents to respond to the urgent and evolving needs of people who have been evacuated due to Mount Agung’s increased volcanic activity. […]

Vanesha Manuturi – Kopernik (29.09.17)


Workshop report

Energy policy-finance nexus in Nicaragua
Smart Villages

The Smart Villages Initiative

Findings 2014-2017
Smart Villages

Webinars – Watch on Demand!

Latest webinar: Perspectives on Energy Justice
Smart Villages


Tanzania’s Mini-Grids And The Pitfalls And Potential Of The Pan-Africa Microgrid Market
Andrew Burger – MicrogridKnowledge (11.10.17)Uganda Requires $287M For Rural Electrification Projects
Esi-Africa (17.10.17)Ghana: Stakeholders Evaluate Renewable Energy Efforts
Ernest Kissiedu – AllAfrica (16.10.17)

Calls For Public Institutions To Invest In Biogas Digesters
Bulawayop (14.10.17)

Akon Launches Rural Electrification Programme In Mozambique
JournalDuCameroun (13.10.17)

Solar Power For Relief Efforts In Syria


Remote Community In Guyana To Be Powered By Solar Energy
Denis Chabrol – Demerarawaves (18.10.17)In Pursuit Of Sustainable Communities: Survey Finds That Indigenous Participation Is Driving Clean Energy Growth In Canada
McCarthy Tétrault LLP – Lexology (16.10.17)Reversing Rural Flight Takes A Village
Jennifer M. Latzke – Hpj (16.10.17)

Why Save Small Towns?
Leah Todd – Nmpolitics (16.10.17)

SDGs and Global Development

Practical Action Launch 2017 PPEO Energy Access Finance Report
Practical Action (11.10.17)UNFCCC “Shines A Light” On Climate Projects Focused On Women, ICTs And Finance
Leila Mead – SDG (03.10.17)Energy News: Partnerships And Tools On Clean Energy Aim To Contribute To Multiple SDGs
SDG (03.10.17)

Rethinking The Cost Of Off-Grid Power: Let’s Do The Math
Andrew M. Herscowitz – Sun-connect

Science & Technology

#Entrepreneurmonth: Hero In A Half Shell, Solarturtle
Sindy PETERS – BizCommunity (16.10.17)Solar Taps Into Massive Rural Electrification Market
Jason Deign – SolarPlaza (11.10.17)Practical Action Launch 2017 Ppeo Energy Access Finance Report
Practical Action

Rethinking The Cost Of Off-Grid Power: Let’s Do The Math
Andrew M. Herscowitz – Sun-Connect (11.10.17)

Tidal Prototype Outputs ‘Beyond International Industry Standards’
MaritimeJournal (11.10.17)

How Professors At IITs Are Improving India’s Solar Power Efficiencies
Hari Pulakkat – TheEconomicTimes (05.10.17)


Mind The Hype: Despite Huge Potential, Solar Energy In SE Asia Is Behind A Cloud
Robin Hicks – Eco-Business (03.10.17)Pre COP23: Iniative To Bring Renewable Energy To Fiji’s Rural Areas
Fijitimes (17.10.17)Pakistan Gets ‘Pay As You Go’ Solar Investment To Help Millions Living Off-Grid
Alan Shields – EnergyVoice (16.10.17)

Electricity After 30 Years For Elte, Pinambi Of Hagen Central In Papua New Guinea
EM-TV (16.10.17)

No More ‘Sick’ Projects In Sarawak
Ismail Sabri – TheBorneoPost (17.10.17)

As The Centre Weans India Off Kerosene Subsidies, How Should States Respond?
Shuruti SHARMA – TheWire (16.10.17)

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/smart-villages-news-150-local-championship-rural-smartness/

Vidya Sagar Devabhaktuni, SKG Sangha – biogas entrepreneur


Vidya Sagar Devabhaktuni, President, SKG Sangha
Location: Bangalore, India
“Human beings are divided, but their basic problems are all the same”


Having provided biogas solutions to over 10,000 villages since the mid-80s, Vidya Sagar Devabhaktuni has explored remote areas all over the world. For the president of SKG Sangha, exploring local cultures and understanding the different food habits is essential. For every geographic climate condition in a different country, he has seen a parallel in India. “If you go to Himachal Pradesh you see the Himalayas topped with ice,” he says. “In the north-east, it has the beauty of any European country.” In the north-east, he claims that the people are smaller, and have more of a community approach than in the south. “This happens probably once people are educated, and become independent,” he says. “When I was a boy, our family members used to live together; not nowadays.”

SKG Sangha employs 1200 people, working across 7 Indian states and in 12 countries. Initially, news of the non-profit spread organically, as one village to the next switched on to its biogas solutions. In 1984, when Devabhaktuni started SKG Sangha, he was a newlywed, a graduate accountant from a small village called Challapalli. “It felt like a moral duty to do something in rural areas, for the environment and the climate,” he says. “The first question was, what should I do?” Devabhaktuni had some experience in running various operations as a young student; he had worked in the Unesco club, and the Indo-German friendship society. “The German consulate came to see me when I was 16 years old; it was a contact which helped me plan and implement for later.”

SKG sangha (2)

When his mother fell ill, Devabhaktuni, an only child, would take over cooking in the evenings. The experience informed his future philanthropy. “Cooking with firewood and smoke is a very difficult task,” he says. “The rain affected the moisture of the firewood, which would often make the smoke worse.” Of the various alternatives that people use, he says, firewood is the most common, practical, and is free. “We have liquefied petroleum gas as a resource, and can import it from Iran via Pakistan – well, you understand the political situation. 3 litres of kerosene goes to every family, which is insufficient for many days of cooking, is imported and mostly used for lighting. Electricity is more expensive, and is not available to everyone.” Providing clean energy at a cheaper price was the first step, he decided, to eliminate difficulties for those who cooked.

It was a chance contact, with a doctor from the Khaliyan Villages University Commission, who switched Devabhaktuni on to the concept of biogas, which he later went on to take a course in. “We didn’t have internet then,” laughs Devabhaktuni. “It was important to meet people.” Via a governmentally-funded scheme, he was able to do some initial experiments in making biogas units – which led to “100% failure”, he adds. “I was inexperienced! I’m not an engineer. After 200 units, things started to go smoothly. Though it took a lot of time to repair the first 200 units!” The scheme provided enough funds to give salaries to a small team, and getting a legal structure was next.

The two secrets to the NGO’s success is employing local people, and ensuring a maintenance guarantee. Devabhaktuni is also conscious of the environmental quandary that working in biomass can create, and he calls this awareness a “continuous journey”. “Our philosophy for the beginning has been to make the planet inhabitable for future generations,” he says. “My children will also have to live here. For every brick we bake, we lose a quantum of soil for this earth. If we are irresponsible, there would be no building materials or soil for growing food left.” Dung is readily available in animal excreta – but he points out that this produces methane in the degeneration process, which they capture – but which can also produce carbon dioxide, and pollute.

SKG sangha (1)

The plan for expansion in the next two months, is to reach 1,000 more villages. “It’s easier to get funding and expand faster since we have become more well-known,” he says. There is a mismatch, adds Devabhaktuni, with Asian and African populations growing and food production coming down. SKG Sangha works in Kenya, Ghana and Senegal too, amongst others. In Mali, the NGO came to provide biogas lamps as well as cooking solutions, because in the majority of cases, they had to deal with the men of the family, who were otherwise not convinced about clean cooking solutions. “I’m glad this marketing strategy worked; the Malians I visited cooked with lard, and in huge quantities!”

“We need an alternative, but there is no investment in agriculture in Africa, for example, for better quality food.” SKG Sangha intends to do this via the high-nutrient sludge coming out of the biogas plant. This fertile, organic procedure benefits the land, added to other organic household waste, creates compost which also acts as fertiliser. This is thus a solution to the lack of investment.

In South America, the company works in Chile, Peru, Honduras and Nicaragua. Devabhaktuni still feels more could be done. “I still feel like our work is just an iota in a big ocean,” says Devabhaktuni. “We are trying to inspire other organisations to take up the job, and provide training for work in other rural areas. Humans are divided by colour, race or language, but the basic arguments for survival remain the same – quality of education, health, and so on. The need is the same in every country.”  


Nabeelah Shabbir


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-vidya-sagar-devabhaktuni-skg-sangha/

Smart Villages News 149 – Off-grid energy – opportunities, resilience and realism

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Dear Subscriber,

As the Smart Villages initiative transitions into a new phase of activities, we’d like to welcome you to the first newsletter of our new fortnightly schedule. As ever, we welcome your comments and contributions.

Recent news is very much dominated by the latest announcements and commitments to energy access in India, and discussions of how realistic achievement of that ambition will be. And of course, we continue to see the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as viewed through a decentralised energy lens. There can be no doubt of the value of off-grid solutions in giving communities resilience in the face of natural disasters, as well as in rapidly addressing post-disaster recovery, and a number of news items this week relate to this subject.

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
Rachel Kyte: Let’s See Financing Energy Access As An Opportunity, Not A Challenge
At the heart of efforts to slow climate change and build a more sustainable development future lies the often overlooked and shameful fact that, today, 1 billion people live without access to electricity and 3 billion without access to clean cooking. The challenge for those governments where there are significant energy gaps is a complex one: how to produce cleaner, affordable energy for far more people, far more quickly. […]

Rachel Kyte – Sun-Connect (26.09.17)Will There Be Light On December 31, 2018?
There is a lot of excitement over the launch of ‘Saubhagya’, the programme to electrify all households by end 2018, as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the end of the BJP national executive meet. The prime minister announcing a clear target for universal household electrification demonstrates political commitment at the highest level – an essential condition for making things move at the ground level. […]

Sree Kumar and Shantanu Dixit – TheWire (27.09.17)

Technical report

Electrification of health clinics in rural areas
Smart Villages

Technical report

Education and the electrification of rural schools
Smart Villages

Technical report

Rural Electrification and Democratic Engagement
Smart Villages

Webinars – Watch on Demand!

Latest webinar: Perspectives on Energy Justice
Smart Villages


Driving Digital Literacy In Rural Rwanda
Julius Bizimungu – TheNewTimes (30.09.17)

SNV Urges Ghana To Pay Attention To Household Air Pollution
Iddi Yire – Ghana News Agency (01.10.17)

Tigo Rwanda Unveils First SMART Village In Rulindo
RwandaEye (29.09.17)

BOAD Funds 22 Mw Of Solar In Guinea Bissau
Emilliano Bellini – PV-Magazine (29.09.17)

Nigerian Government To Provide Solar Power To Kano Market
SundiataPost (28.09.17)

Climate Science: Getting African Researchers Involved
Godefroy Chabi – SciDev (27.09.17)


Sonnen Pledges To Build Microgrids In Puerto Rico
Peter Maloney – UttilityDive (02.10.17)

Acciona “Centros Luz En Casa” Featured In Global Compact Yearbook

Puerto Rico’s Agony Makes The Case For Climate-Resilience Investing
David Bank – ImpactAlpha (02.10.17)

The Promise & Perils Of Renewable Energy & Microgrids For Puerto Rico
Steve Hanley – CleanTechnica (30.09.17)

SDGs and Global Development

Most Countries Lagging On Health SDGs
Neena Bhandari – SciDev (25.09.17)ODI Report: Global Development Trends And Challenges: How Can Aid Agencies Deliver?
Homi Kharas and Andrew Rogerson – OdiDeloitte Report On SDG #7: Ensure Access To Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable And Modern Energy
Jennifer Muller – Deloitte (29.09.17)

Shell Springboard To Award £350,000 To The Most Innovative Low-Carbon Enterprises
Business/matter (29.09.17)

Science & Technology

Eliminating Environmental Toll Of Global Battery Supply Chain
SustainableBrands (02.10.17)

Water Evaporation Has Potential As A Renewable Energy Source
Nature (26.09.17)

What Smart Meters Tell Us About Rural Microgrid Use In Emerging Markets
Sun Connect (25.09.17)

Off-Grid Remote Communities To Get Energy From Tidal Device
Charlie Taylor – IrishTimes (02.10.17)

Battery Startup Brill Power Wins New Energy Challenge
Karel Beckman – TheEnergyCollective (29.09.17)

Military Sees A Bright Future For Solar And Energy Storage
Travis Hoium – TheMotleyFool (02.10.17)

Researchers Seek Cheaper, Energy-Efficient Ways Of Producing Clean Water
Elizabeth Lee – VoaNews (29.09.17)


Saubhagya Scheme May Provide Base For India’s Energy Shift
Utpal Bhaskar – LiveMint (02.10.17)Rural India Struggles To Get 100% Electrification
Navtan Kumar – SundayGuardianLive (30.09.17)2.36 Million Philippine Households Without Electricity: Study
Xinhua – XinhuaNet (29.09.17)

No Free Electricity Under India’s ‘Power For All’ Scheme
Bhanvi Arora – Bloomberg (28.09.17)

Lessons From Natural Disasters Spur New Microgrids In Japan
Andrew Burger – MicroGridKnowledge (26.09.17)

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Smart Villages News 148 – Energy equality – now or never

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Dear Subscriber,

These past weeks, we’ve witnessed the destruction of hurricanes and flooding from South Asia to the Caribbean. As we all know, it will take not only days but weeks, months, and sometimes years to fully re-build from these disasters, and at the moment, the most urgent needs are food, water, and shelter. In the articles below, you’ll find one on the importance of local aid groups to disaster relief. This brings to mind also the importance of resilience and of supporting local efforts to increase resilience in communities. While disasters can be unpredictable and entail a devastating loss of lives and livelihoods, there are also ways that preparation can help communities. In the article below on Puerto Rico, the authors note that Hurricane Irma could leave it without electricity for months – this points out the central issue of infrastructure and government-level preparation. For remote, rural communities, the same issue exists, albeit at a smaller level: how to prepare, how to survive – and if there’s time, how to preserve existing infrastructure?
On a related topic, this week, Smart Villages attended the “Energy and Equality” conference held by the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network (LCEDN) at Durham University. This is an apt moment to discuss energy and equality, and equality in general as often the most vulnerable people and communities are affected by disasters. Molly Hurley-Depret of Smart Villages chaired two excellent panels that focused on Market Solutions and featured speakers working closely with community-based energy entrepreneurs. Stay tuned for our September webinar with LCEDN, which will feature several excellent speakers from this conference.Quick update: We’ll be back with more news you can use on October 4th! The newsletter will also move to a twice-per-month schedule – but no worries: it will have the same great content!

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
South Asia’s Worst Flooding In A Decade Kill Thousands And Decimates Millions Of Hectares Of Crops
Millions of hectares of crops have been destroyed across south Asia following the worst flooding in a decade, prompting aid agencies to warn of a looming food and financial crisis. As floodwaters receded, one aid executive said: “The scale of the devastation is hard to comprehend”. […]

Harriet Agerholm – Independent (07.09.17)Hurricane Irma: Survivors Tell Of ‘Utter Devastation’ On Caribbean Islands
Residents of the British Virgin Islands say they have witnessed scenes of “unbelievable” devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, and warned of widespread looting and a shortage of water and shelter for those left homeless by the storm. Irma severed links with the outside world and left thousands of tourists and local people desperate to escape after it pounded islands along the north-eastern edge of the Caribbean. […]

Justin McCurry – The Guardian (10.09.17)

Irma Could Leave Puerto Rico Without Electricity For Months
Several hours before Hurricane Irma was expected to swipe the Northern coast of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, a huge swath of the island was already in the dark — and could stay that way for months.At a Wednesday morning press conference, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters that 20 percent of the public utility company’s 1.5 million users had already lost power. He was upbeat, assuring the public that help was on the way. […]

Alexia Fernández Campbell – Vox (06.09.17)

UN Calls For More Global Commitment To SDGs
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has called for escalated efforts by Nations for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure that the 2030 deadline is met. […]

Vanguard (09.09.17)

New Research Shows Solar Energy May Have Been Undervalued
Has the future reach of solar energy been underestimated? New research shows it may be so.Previous studies have estimated the share of solar energy by the year 2050 would be between 5 and 17 percent, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison news release. However, a recent study from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change showed the percentage of solar energy worldwide will be three times higher than originally projected. More specifically, the share by 2050 will likely be between 30 and 50 percent. […]

Breann Schossow – WPR (11.09.17)


New report: “Smart Rural Development”

Final report from Smart Villages / EASAC report in Brussels
Smart Villages

New report

Final report from our Latin America engagement
Smart Villages

New report

State-level workshops in India
Smart Villages

Webinars: Watch on demand!

Latest webinar: India, off-grid solar energy & healthcare
Smart Villages

Featured Presentation

Powering primary healthcare through solar in India
Smart Villages


Malawi: The Power Of Solar
Nick Schonfeld – HuffingtonPost (09.09.17)German Envoy To Turkey Calls For Further Cooperation On Energy Projects
Selva Ünal – Daily Sabah (09.09.17)They Should Be Much Bigger’: The Heavy Toll Of Hunger On Madagascar’s Children
Karen McVeigh – The Guardian (06.09.17)Résultats Mitigés De La Réduction De La Malnutrition En Afrique
Julien Chongwang – SciDevNet (05.09.17)

Chinese, African Scientists Endorse Joint Pact To Promote Sustainability Agenda
huaxia – NewChina (07.09.17)

Phanes Opens African Solar Power Incubator To Boost Energy
BusinessDay (06.09.17)

Liberia: Energy Solution To Light Up Totota Rural Community
Esi-Africa (06.09.17)

Liberia To Benefit From India’s $2 Billion Solar Projects For Africa
Leroy M. Sonpon, III – LiberianObsever (06.09.17)

Nigeria Can Become Global Energy Powerhouse Through Digitsation
Goddy Egene – This Day (06.09.17)

AfDB: Gabriel Negatu Unpacks Japan-Africa Energy Initiative
Esi-Africa (05.09.17)


The Situation Is Overwhelming’: Aid Workers On Responding To Hurricane Irma
Kate Hodal – The Guardian (09.09.17)Mexico’s Green Expo Shows That A Gigawatt PVMarket Is Around The Corner
Eckhart Gouras – Pv-Magazine (08.09.17)Renewable Energy Boost – Clinton Foundation Confident That Jamaica Will Tap Into More Natural Resources For Power Grid
Jesse Grestin – The Gleaner (10.09.17)Could Papayas Help Hawaii Become Energy Independent?
Sara Novak – SierraClub (12.09.17)

Bill Gates: Don’t Expect Charities To Pick Up The Bill For Trump’s Sweeping Aid Cuts
Kate Hodal – The Guardian (13.09.17)

SDGs and Global Development

Once This Was All Trees, But They Burned Them To Plant Cocoa’: The Ruin Of West Africa’s Rainforest
Ruth Maclean – The Guardian (13.09.17)Commentary: Driving Capital To Impact Investing With An Eye On 2030
PIOnlineGlobal Water And Land Meetings Address Drought
Lauren Anderson – IISD

Science & Technology

MIT Researchers Turn To Ancient Design To Solve One Of Renewable Energy’s Biggest Challenges
Tim Nelson – ArchitecturalDigest (11.09.17)

UN Science Report To Guide Countries On The SDGs
Anita Makri – SciDev (06.09.17)The Future Of Electrical Energy Storage Solutions – No Lithium Supremacy
HuffingtonPost (08.09.17)

Science Academies Should Influence Education In Africa
Ochieng’ Ogodo – SciDev (04.09.17)

Local Innovation, International Impact: SMEs And The Itu Telecom World Awards
EuropeanString (09.09.17)


Local Aid Groups Are Key To Disaster Relief. So Why Are They Overlooked?
Malaka Gharib – NPR (08.09.17)Cambodian Biodigester Finds Success, Attracts Investors
Tanushree Rao – SciDevNet (11.09.17)India’s Power Sector Stuck In The Doldrums
Indian Express (10.09.17)Philippines To Pursue Decentralised Electricity Strategy For Islands – Cites Disaster Vulnerability
Jordeene Sheex Lagare – The Manila Times (09.09.17)

Dulas Solar-Powered Refrigerators Save Vaccines In Myanmar
Danielle Kirsh – Medical Design and Outsourcing (08.09.17)

A Toilet Is The Star Of India’s Hit Rom-Com
Kamala Thiagarajan – NPR (07.09.17)

Event: [Ieeemy] Digital Sarawak: Smart Villages Paving The Way For Accessible Rural Communities Workshop

Politics Podcast: Mark Butler On Energy Uncertainty
Michelle Grattan – TheConversation (12.09.17)

Energy Regulators Look To Water Crisis For Lessons

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Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/smart-villages-news-148-energy-equality-now-never/

Smart Villages News 147 – Never so relevant

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We welcome submissions to this newsletter, including comment pieces from our readers. Join the conversation!

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Dear Subscriber,

Increased resilience for communities has been one of the key dividends of off-grid energy we have confirmed during the first phase of the Smart Villages Initiative. Our workshops in Nepal, Philippines and the Dominican Republic discussed how solar, wind and hydro power can quickly help recovery programs, not just when the grid goes down, but also if diesel supplies are interrupted. In this terrible week, with floods and hurricanes devastating the southern US, Bangladesh and as I write the Caribbean and potentially Florida, hopefully, the latest off-grid technology advances can help communities in their hour of need.

Top Stories

Dakar Workshop
Efficient PPAs Key To Hybrid Micro-Grid Development Says New Study
In terms of micro-grids, key to reducing diesel consumption by renewables are efficient PPAs, finds consultancy THEnergy, noting that the complexity of these contracts is much greater than in the case of grid-connected photovoltaic systems. […]

MARIJA DJORDJEVIC – PV-Magazine (30.08.17)Energy At The Heart Of Civilisation Believes We Mean Business CEO Topping
“It’s a huge topic, from a moral topic, to political scale, where does the transition in the energy economy for mean geopolitics,” said Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business Coalition at the ‘3rd Business and Climate Summit 2017’.“Energy is at the heart of the civilization. It dictates the distribution of resources”, he said, adding that “it’s also a security issue, it dictates many of the conflicts of the world today.” […]

Anurit Kanti – Businessworld (01.09.17)

Little Sun Diamond Raises The Bar In Solar Lamp Design
There are 1.1 billion people living without access to the electrical grid, leaving their basic needs unfulfilled — clean light and energy are necessary to human existence and community life. internationally-renowned artist olafur eliasson and solar engineer frederik ottesen launched the little sun project back in 2012 in hopes of redefining that reality, with a mission of bringing solar light to nations with limited resources. […]

nina azzarello – DesignBoom (01.09.17)

Smart Villages Centre Opened At KLU In India
Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu stated that the AP government was promoting innovation centres to turn Amaravati into a research hub. He was speaking at the open innovation hackathon building on Smart Villages at KL University in Guntur district on Thursday. […]

DeccanChronicle (01.09.17)

Women’s Network For Energy And Environment Formed In Nepal
Women’s Network for Energy and Environment (WoNEE) has been formed here today at the national level with the objective of exerting pressure for ensuring women’s participation through inclusive and participatory development and management of the energy sector. […]

MyRepublica (03.09.17)


Summer reading

Business models for mini-grids
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Summer reading

A Vision for Smart Villages
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Energy Entrepreneurs

Greenlink: We’re building a company, we’re not rescuing Africa
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On demand

Watch our webinars – health, agriculture, gender, business models & more!
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Featured Presentation

National Experiences in the ECOWAS region
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Bakula Power Pioneers Waste-Fed Mini-Grids In Uganda
Oluwabusayomi Sotunde – HowWeMadeItInAfrica (02.09.17)Arensis Buys Scottish Wood Pellet Plant
Bioenergy-news (31.08.17)

African Mobile Start-Ups Can Apply For UK Development Funding
MICHAEL FUHS – PV-Magazine (30.08.17)

Report Shows Nigeria Spending Shocking $14 B On Off-Grid Diesel Generation
Punchng (03.09.17)

Kenya Dubbed The World’s Micro-Grid Lab
Andrew Burger – MicroGridKnowledge (04.09.17)


Harvey Shows Need For Distributed Energy Note Commentators
Jeff St. John – GreenTechMedia (01.09.17)Maine Island Goes Off-Grid
Tory Ryden – WLBZ2 (30.09.17)Duke Calls For Rate Increase To Fund Switch To Smarter Energy
RiverCityNews (02.09.17)US Electric Cooperative Wins Solar-Storage-Plus Project In Liberia
Andy Colthorpe – EnergyStorage (04.09.17)

Science & Technology

New Off-Grid Box Solution From Italy
juliana neira – DesignBoom (30.08.17)Acer Unveils New Off-Grid Computer Range
GSMArena (30.08.17)

Solar-Powered Hydrogen Production Now Feasible Claims NEL CEO 
MICHAEL FUHS – PV-Magazine (30.08.17)

Guide To DIY Solar Battery Banks
SARA MATASCI. – EnergySage (31.08.17)

Latest Solar Energy Charge Market Survey Published

Solar-Wind Powered Lamp Posts Developed By Irish Firm Airsynergy
Jonny Bairstow – EnergyLiveNews (04.09.17)


GGGI Calls For PV Proposals In Indonesia
PV-Magazine (01.09.17)Rethinking Hydropower In Myanmar
Michael Spolum – MyanmarTimes (30.08.17)Solar Best Option For Assam Says Governor
IndiaToday (30.08.17)Off-Grid Cost For Others Row Brews In Australia
Stephanie Anderson – Abc (30.08.17)

Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Urged To Explore Micro-Grids
Teresa D. Ellera – Sunstar (31.08.17)

Solar Lighting Up Cambodia’s Villages
Chea Vannak – KhmerTimes (01.09.17)

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Saddek Fenardji, Canopy – solar entrepreneur


Saddek Fenardji, General Secretary, Canopy
Location: Paris, France
“The biggest challenge is getting paid”

Saddek Fenardji remembers a local mayor’s surprise at how off-grid energy shaped Akonolinga, a town 70 kilometres away from the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé. “We built 250 street lights in a city of 20,000 inhabitants, which was otherwise totally in the dark after 6pm,” he says. “I didn’t expect that either, but shops and small businesses starting opening up directly underneath the solar-powered street lamps.”

Canopy has also worked in rural areas in France, providing solar street lights. The company first started operations in Paris in 2008. “We felt the solar business would be a revolution, just like mobile phones were in the early nineties. It’s not a revolution for the moment, but in the next decade it will be; look at how the price of solar panels dropped, around 80% in the last five years. And it will continue.”

The company’s initial development of solar projects in France and Italy were “no longer profitable” due to a state decision. “The warranty price of solar electricity ended; the national electricity company, EDF, couldn’t purchase our warranty tariffs. There were no subsidies.” Many other companies in a similar position faced bankruptcy, says Fenardji. Canopy looked in a different direction: Africa. In 2012, the company opened an affiliate in Cameroon where there is a staff of 15. Fenardji came from a finance and consulting background to the energy industry, and now runs Canopy’s operations in Cameroon.

The choice was made since it was a country where the company had contacts, saw “no competition at all” and could contribute to its low electrification rate of 5%. Around 70% of the 12.2 Cameroonians live in rural areas. In the town of Akono, Canopy built an off grid solar power plant for a convent, Soeurs de la Croix. The hybrid plant encourages saving fuel by using electric generators. In the town of Bipindi, 20 solar street lights were installed.

The ‘100 villages solar electrification’ projects aims to install solar box kits and hybrid mini photovoltaïc plants in 100 isolated villages in 2 main areas: the Bakassi peninsula in the south west, and the Pygmies area in the East. “During the feasibility study, we saw that one man was randomly selected in a very isolated village to collect mobile  phones. He would take the wheelbarrow 10 km away to a spot where he could reload the phones, and bring it back to the village in the afternoon.”akonolinga shops canopy (1)

The company opened subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau. In 2016, the year that the founder of the company left, the latter three of those subsidiaries closed. A new shareholder came in, opening a new affiliate in Madagascar. “These are French-speaking countries, and there are similarities in regulations as in France, such as accountability, or in the corporate-legal sense. There is a cultural proximity.”

There are challenges though; getting paid being one. In Cameroon, 50% of Canopy’s projects serve public markets, issued by the energy ministry. Funding for the other half of the projects come from NGOs and private companies. “Since the price of oil collapsed, Cameroon is going through an economic crisis. We will be paid, but there are difficulties in collecting the money. We have to wait. This is why we do not want to expand very fast.” Other challenges include finding good electrical engineers on the ground, and dealing with tax. The company, which employs 25 people, expects to be profitable by late 2018.

nuns congregation canopy

In a joint venture with a company in Paraguay, Canopy’s other new direction is to focus on biofuel, produced from the pongamia tree. The idea is to sell this to oil companies, and within Madagascar. “It will have an environmental and socio-economic impact on hundreds of farmers there,” says Fenardji. “There will be the rehabilitation of thousands hectares of degraded land. A vegetable oil produced from the tree could also replacement for expensive imported kerosene and coal; coal is the main source of energy for Malagasy households, and communities are putting pressure on the forest for the wood. Finally, pongamia can be used as fertilizer, or be recovered in animal rations.”

Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee 


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-saddek-fenardji-canopy/

Kopernik Indonesia – solving last mile problems


Sergina Loncle, Communications Manager, Kopernik
Location: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
“The supply chain in Indonesia is a real challenge”

On one of Indonesia’s 18,000 islands, Adonara in East Nusa Tenggara, crops such as copra – dried coconut flesh – are sold raw and unprocessed. Copra is usually left strewn on the ground, to dry in the open air. Recent research shows that there is less spoilage when copra is placed into a solar dryer. This is a controlled environment which looks like a giant black box in the field. Inside the “K-dryer”, funded by the organisation Polish Aid, a solar panel powers exhaust fumes which dries the crop out, away from the weather and any other contamination.

This may seem an unsurprising discovery – the power of an innovative machine over centuries-old farming practises. However, this is precisely the vision behind Kopernik, a company based in Bali which devised this container in the summer of 2016. Nearly half of Indonesia’s population – a whopping 250 million people – live in rural areas. Named after Nicolas Copernicus, the 15th century astronomer who discovered the Earth moves around the Sun, Kopernik goes out on a limb for its experimental projects, which are run on a small-scale.

“With the solar dryer, we aim to help farmers in eastern Indonesia increase the value of their products,” explains Sergina Loncle, communications manager, who has studied and worked in women’s empowerment, gender and disability and community-based projects. In another current pitch for a project, the team is planning to help farmers extract honey from the forests in an efficient way, using a filter. “Sometimes, success isn’t always guaranteed – but that’s the nature of experimentation.” Agriculture is a key growth factor in the country’s economy – comprising 15% of GDP in 2014.

3 Drying copra Kopernik

Kopernik was launched by a couple who met when they were UN employees in Jakarta in 2010. Toshi Nakamura, CEO, and Ewa Wojkowska , COO, had relocated to New York when they devised the concept behind their philanthropic and business project, funded by donors. “The challenge is people’s need to access electricity, water and clean energy – especially in the last mile,” says Loncle. “The founders saw that many people living in poverty could not access these basic needs.” Some of these solutions in the last mile are as simple as developing cashew openers. These are, very literally, the toughest nut to crack for workers in Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world.

A team of 80 employees, headquartered in Ubud, includes a team of three focusing on business development in Japan, where the company is also registered. In total, the organisation comprises four entities – its for-profit consulting arm in Indonesia raises most of the capital for its nonprofit arm, whilst there is also a non-profit arm in the US, which has tax exemption status.

2 solar dryer Kopernik

On its website, Kopernik claims to have reached over 400,000 people in at least 26 countries, using over 99,000 different clean technologies. Some of these include solar-powered rice hullers, foot-powered rice threshers or grain storage sacks. Kopernik works in Africa and South East Asia, partnering with local organisations. In Indonesia, Kopernik partners with small business owners, who sell technologies at their grocery stalls. The company focuses on simple technologies, such as solar lights, water filters, or biomass cookstoves – although there are still behavioural challenges here. Loncle explains that cutting the wood into small pieces for biomass stoves can put people off. When it comes to boiling water for use, it takes word-of-mouth for people in rural areas to invest in water filters.

The problem with working in rural areas is the state of the supply chain, says Loncle. “After custom clearance at the airport or the port, we have to wait for the bulk of the products to be brought to us in the east, which can take a month or two,” she says. “From the port to the other districts, in an archipelago country, there are more than a thousand islands. We use multi transportation means from the boat, trucks, even wheelbarrows.

Since late 2014, the company has partnered with Energia on the “Wonder Woman” programme. This extended move into focusing on women agents in the field in the east of the country came after a successful round of funding from Australia Aid. “The programme empowers women to sell clean energy technologies,” says Loncle – their work is useful in areas where the very poor might resist new technologies. “They also receive training sessions on how to do marketing, bookkeeping, maintaining technologies amongst others.” Working with ExxonMobil in 2013, Kopernik helped women created micro-business opportunities in Gugus Barat 1, a local educational district in Northern Aceh. The plan was to aid them in expanding their income generating opportunities beyond primary school teaching; the group successfully launched a flour-mill business.

The focus will remain on women’s empowerment and clean energy technologies. Loncle adds that Kopernik is shifting direction to four new areas – agriculture and fisheries, education, water health and sanitation. The company’s electricity distribution project focuses solely on rural areas. “This new mission is moving from connecting simple technologies, to finding what works to reduce poverty in the last mile.” Should these work, says Loncle, they look forward to the next step – scaling up the solutions.

Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/sergina-loncle-kopernik/

Nico Tyabji, SunFunder – solar entrepreneur


Nico Tyabji, Director of Strategic Partnerships, SunFunder

Location: US, East Africa

“As a financial intermediary for the off-grid solar sector, we’ve grown alongside companies”


Since it launched as a specialist debt financier for the off-grid solar sector in 2012, SunFunder has improved energy access for 2.9 million people. Co-founders Ryan Levinson and Audrey Desiderato lead the teams of 23 staff members from the US and East Africa respectively. “The economics for solar were improving rapidly, and Ryan wondered why this wasn’t taking off in the developing world,” explains Nico Tyabji, director of strategic partnerships. Some of the early pioneers of the solar industry at the time were working in rural areas, and mostly in East Africa; Greenlight Planet, Off Grid Electric (M-Power), or d:light. While the technology and distribution models were there, or developing, the financing was not. “The biggest bottleneck was the lack of scaleable debt financing,” says Tyabji.

And so, five years ago, Levinson and Desiderato began a crowdfunding campaign. Tyabji calls it a “great way to get started”. Capital was deployed, demand was high; more scale was needed. The business model changed “almost immediately”. SunFunder switched to selling private debt notes, now larger structured funds, and has developed more specific financing solutions along the way. Its investors primarily come from the US, and increasingly from Europe. The investors also have their own diligence, and SunFunder has a 100% repayment record.

SolarNow customer_Sameer Halai

A typical customer that the financial intermediary might provide debt to is part of a “second generation” of energy entrepreneurs. “It’s the state of the industry as a whole,” says Tyabji, about the promising startups who can’t get loans because of their lack of a track record. “Solar is a hard sell in the local economy.” The credit and lending teams in East Africa play a unique role in finding new opportunities and undertaking diligence on new companies. They also help to develop early-stage business in a more hands-on way.

Another example of a customer is the Uganda-based Solar Now. The solar home system provider designs its own products and has rolled out a two-year payment plan for customers in rural areas. SunFunder provided a small loan initially for then, and is now working on “larger facilities and innovative structures” for the company. explains Nico Tyabji, who previously worked at Bloomberg Energy Finance, where he led coverage of off-grid and energy access.

Whilst SunFunder still works on small loans with locally-owned businesses, from a competition viewpoint, Tyabji says it would like to do scaleable, larger deals too. He points out that more and more investors are taking an active role in this in the sector, particularly from an equity standpoint. While SunFunder works on residential solar projects, since it is a retail product which is financed and sold, it is starting to do more solar financing for businesses. In general, the off-grid element – which would mean essentially operating as a mini-utility – is harder. “We don’t have companies who have found the winning models for mini-grids, or village tariff plans,” he explains.

There are a couple of big changes that Tyabji has noticed at SunFunder. The leap in financing has gone from five-figure sums to seven-figures. The process has also become more sophisticated. A simple loan to a solar company became financing through special-purpose vehicles – Tyabji quotes the pay-as-you-go consumer finance offering as an example. “The company has to find the upfront cost of that system somewhere. We now set up separate financing vehicles for those systems.” The advantages of this include simplified portfolios for the companies, and allowing other investors to come in, amongst others. “We’ve been growing alongside the sector,” Tyabji says. “We’re ready to take off.”


Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-nico-tyabji-sunfunder/

Suleiman Mzungu, SUJA – biomass entrepreneur


Suleiman Mzungu, Co-founder, SUJA

Location: Tanzania

“Changing the practice of cooking with charcoal is complex”


As part of the plan to make charcoal from more sustainable sources, Suleiman Mzungu and Jacqueline Proneth are passing by the sugar cane sellers of Dar-es-Salaam, collecting the empty husks thrown aside. Collecting sugar cane husks also solves a percentage of the waste management of the city. They stop by people’s homes, to see if there is any charcoal dust left over from their use in the cookstoves. “I’ve seen charcoal be used since I was born,” says Mgunzu, who met Proneth at a training course in the summer of 2016; within a month, they had set about starting their own social business. ‘SUJA’ is taken after their own first names.

However, before consolidating their business plan and applying for all of the relevant permissions – they have the interior ministry, the national environment council and the Tanzanian authority to tackle – they need to essentially be their own production line. And so the founding team are collecting raw materials, storing them in the Proneth family home, and following the due process to make cleaner energy materials for cookstoves.

Mgunzu reels off the statistics: 90% of Tanzanian forestry is cut down to produce charcoa; 500,000 sacks of charcoal a month are consumed in Dar Es Salaam alone; the government halted charcoal production in 2013, but later realised later that as an illegal activity, it employed over 60,000 people (according to the Biomass Energy Strategy of Tanzania report). Changing the practice of using charcoal with such mitigating factors is complex,”admits Mgunzu. The fact is, that Tanzanians rely on firewood and charcoal heavily; both are readily available as affordable sources of electricity. Finding an alternative, and helping people have a different perception of using electricity, presents a challenge. “We had to come up with ways to ease the minds of people and convert their usage.

One solution is to come up with packaging for an alternative energy source which could conveniently and easily be sold in supermarkets; usually, charcoal is not sold at supermarkets, and comes in sacks. Proneth and Mgunzu asked some mothers, who need charcoal to cook traditional dishes including beans, maize and rice, what the resource was like. “They cannot predict the quality of the charcoal they buy until they start using it. They complained that the price they pay does not correspond to the quantity they get; it’s not fixed.” A sack of charcoal is 60,000 Tanzanian shillings, 3-4 USD.

With research and analysis of the magnitude of the problem out of the way, the next step for the SUJA duo is borne out of curiosity – what could strategic solutions be, to produce more efficient charcoal, or an equivalent of cleaner resources, and protect trees? Training is important, as is using a prototype and gathering feedback. Since the duo have backgrounds in finance and human resources, the engineering stage was greatly improved with the help of a mentor from Nairobi for seven weeks of training “after class”. “It was then that I really learnt how much energy efficiency could work,” says Mgunzu.

The secret, Mgunzu feels, is to do lots of reading on energy experts and economists, and see how other competitors work. “Our main competitors use coconut shells as their raw material, and I had to foresee what future competitors might use, like rice husks. Depending on a single raw material can be a mistake, in case it depletes, so we decided to depend on a variety of materials, wood pieces, agricultural wastes, sugar cane husks and charcoal dust included.”

These raw materials go through a five-stage process in making a sustainable charcoal plate, beginning with carbonation (aside from the charcoal dust), to activate the combustion with oxygen. “We grind them together to create a fine powder, although not entirely as we want to avoid ash production. We’ve created a ratio which is 2:1 (kilos of charcoal dust with small pieces of charcoal). We use a binding agent, cooking moderate porridge out of cassava, which has to be medium-density so that it also does not smoke. After boiling it we mix it with charcoal dust. We don’t have the machinery to compress the mixed charcoal dust, so you get surprised at what we use!”

On a soft surface, the duo squeeze the bottom of a mosquito spray can onto the dust to get the shape for a unit. They then place this on an iron sheet, where it heats up and distributes effectively. “We put them in the sun for drying, so the drying process fastens over two to three days. They don’t crack this way.” The team also created a sticker with the name, weight of the charcoal package and price, by boiling wax and mixing it with kerosene to dry it into stick shapes, which they pack them into the charcoal bags to light up the charcoal. “We don’t want people to use paper or unsafe methods, but the wax stick,” adds Mgunzu.

The first tester of the product seems to have been won over. “Jacqueline’s mum was very surprised,” laughs Mgunzu. “She said, can this really cook!” Mgunzu and Proneth produced 300 pieces in their first day, and gave Proneth’s mother 28 pieces. “Jacqueline was the chef, the rice and stew cooked well, and when I went back her mother was still surprised – how did this stuff cook?!”

SUJA is now formalising the business with certain procedures. The Tanzanian Bureau of Standards will do a safety test; the ministry of energy will assess the sources of raw materials; the national environment council has its guidelines too. The team have produced 15 bags and took them to 20 chosen respondents for one week, as piloted in their home towns of Mabibo and Tabata, and are collecting feedback still. “There are many challenges still,” says Mgunzu. The next step will be to partner with a clean cookstove company.

Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee[:]

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-suleiman-mzungu-suja/

Carlo Figa Talamanca, Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise


Carlo Figa Talamanca, Chief Executive, Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise

Location: Phnomh Penh, Cambodia

“We compete on industrialising the clean charcoal process”


The other day, there was a fistfight on the factory floor. More worryingly, an employee’s child did not turn up at school. This is directly the responsibility of Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE). The social enterprise was created in Cambodia in 2008 to alleviate poverty, starting with its 35 employees. They are credited with coming up with the method of “greener charcoal”, using coconut husks and organic waste. Hired via the education NGO PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant), the situation is “delicate”, says Carlo Figa Talamanca, chief executive. To curb high school dropout rates, and to stop young people from leaving school early, often to start working at the dumpsite as their parents did or in illegal activities, SGFE employs their parents, providing bank accounts and part of their monthly salary in advance.

Production workers_16

The condition is that they educate their children; at the end of 2015, 21 children were in school. “Many are illiterate, and have never had proper jobs,” explains Talamanca. A 2015 report by SGFE suggested every second person in Cambodia under the age of 24 did not have a primary school education. “We provide a salary, with health insurance, holidays and annual leave. It’s a big motivation for me and my team, but it’s pretty hard. One child was sold by her mother, but we managed to find her and get her back into school.” 3 of the team members have been there since the beginning; vast majority are production workers. As former waste pickers, these locals from the suburbs of Phnom Penh (some of whom have moved from more rural areas to find work), are part of a sustainable solution, in reusing waste and char residue.

SGFE started life as a project run between two NGOs: GERES (Group for Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity), and the aforementioned PSE (whose name translates to ‘for the smile of a child’). Talamanca came on board as a consultant in 2010; the small factory offering an alternative to the more polluting, traditional charcoal was not financially sustainable. He invested his own money as an emergency measure, and took over. The plan was to restart the social business, maintaining its original goals – encouraging a local economy with social and environmental impact – but this time, from a more profitable angle.

Factory_TLUD clean charing technology_05

In 2014, SGFE findings showed that many customers used charbriquettes for seven hours a day, implying a hugely improved health benefit of the smoke-filled kitchens of before. The majority of the customers are Khmer restaurants, followed by street vendors and Japanese and Korean restaurants. Even then, a charbriquette may not be powerful enough to fire up a pot of rice, and so Liquified Petroleum Gas or traditional charcoal is still used, according to a 2015 report released by SGFE.

It’s also not easy to convince people in households of the benefits of using charbriquettes as a fuel alternative. Over 90% of Cambodians still cook with biomass, wood and charcoal. SGFE specialises in two types of briquettes made purely from biomass – one model, ‘diamond’ is made entirely from empty coconut shells. The other model is made mainly from recycled wood charcoal residues, with around 5% of coconut shell char. Talamanca remembers a customer simply not believing in the premise of a smoke-free kitchen. “He told me it was probably more healthy for me, as a white man, but that he had been used to the smoke in his house since he was a child; he thought he was immune to it.”

The production and management of the briquettes came about largely thanks to the work of engineering interns and trainees who came to Cambodia. Some have written their graduation theses on the enterprise. “Unluckily, there is a lack of available talent here in Cambodia, for the moment,” says Talamanca. “But we improvise. It’s learning by doing.” SGFE has come up with a unique in-house drying technology for the raw materials, after they are mixed through with tapioca starch, and compressed with water in a machine. This takes less than 24 hours; usually, the crushed materials take 2 – 3 days to dry in the sun.

External funding helped the enterprise grow from selling 4 tonnes per month, to over 100 tonnes a month, in 5 years – impacting more over 2000 households. Two grants from the Global Alliance on Clean Cookstoves and the Waterloo Foundation allowed for scale. As production output increased, the team doubled in size. Prices were raised in response, as the demand was so high. With new private investment in the bag, a bigger factory is planned, which could produce 500 tonnes per month.

The key to the enterprise’s growth, says Talamanca, who has also worked in parts of Africa as a UNHCR consultant, is the economy of scale. It is for this reason that working solely in rural areas, where there is a lot of reliance on firewood, is not a viable business model; although 80% of Cambodians live in rural areas. “Selling char-briquettes in rural areas would not be competitive, where those prices are low. In urban areas, they are higher, as they are transported to the city. We don’t have costs since we’re in the Cambodian capital.” With home delivery, the briquettes are popular with customers.

As Talamanca explains, the process of making “traditional charcoal” – typically by a family network who will chop trees in the forests and bury them in mid kilns in the ground, to then sell at a low cost – is too hard to compete with. “We would have to purchase raw materials, maintain machinery, pay for electricity, not to mention assign salaries or run a factory. So, we compete on industrialising the process as much as we can.” Thus, as energy providers, SGFE’s focus is on urban areas, where there is a higher demand for charcoal, and where prices are higher. Around 10% of the company’s eco-cooking fuel output goes to four provinces: Siem Reap, Takeo, Svay Reang and Prey Veng.


By producing charbriquettes and saving wood, SGFE is ensuring that less charcoal comes from illegal logging. Cambodia is at extreme risk of deforestation, losing 20% of its woodland in recent years. Since the C02 emissions are no longer being absorbed into the forests, the risk of climate change increases. SGFE’s carbon footprint helps make this very case; it has certified its footprint, and an official UNFCCC calculation has shown that for every tonne of char-briquettes the enterprise makes, 16.5 tonnes of C02 emissions, and ten trees are saved. The enterprise saves around 20,000 tonnes annually. The company was awarded the Ashden Award for Avoided Deforestation 2014.

The company made a profit in 2016, which was partly due to Talamanca’s lobbying of the government for a 10% tax exemption for three years. “I found the government very collaborative,” says Talamanca. “They are also in discussions with the NGO GERES to halt sustainable charcoal production sourced in forests, by taxing traditional charcoal production. One thing is clear; you cannot stop the demand, and you cannot stop the supply. The only way is to try to raise charcoal prices, make sustainable solutions more competitive, and fine the transporters or retailers.”


The plan going ahead is to build a franchise model with local entrepreneurs in other countries; Talamanca has visited Uganda, Ghana and the Philippines. ” I don’t personally know all of the other countries and I would not be able to the business myself; and to start and do it all over again! I went through that once already in Cambodia…” he laughs. “The idea is to partner with and do a technology transfer in other countries, of production but also production processes, supply chain management, marketing and so on. Even reputable projects with private investments can seem quite primitive, compared to what we are doing, so we’d like to transform the way of doing the business, customised to a local environment.” For Talamanca, it is not about scale or the production technology itself – “it’s really the entire system”. The future is sustainable, promising efficient large-scale production, the ‘economy of scale’, and a stabilising environment for employees and the environment.

Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/carlo-figa-talamanca-sustainable-green-fuel-enterprise/

David Achi, AD Solar Entreprise – minigrid entrepreneur

David Achi, Director, AD Solar Entreprise

Location: Abidjan, Ivory Coast

“Ivorians can now access life”

Running a business in Ivory Coast is not easy, much less a solar company. David Achi trained over 1,000 technicians via a company he created in Reims – “the capital of champagne!” – in 2010. Achi also taught engineering at a French university, and has also trained Chadians, Martiniquais and Cameroonians. A 2011 visit to see his social worker father on his farm in Ivory Coast ended up in a permanent move home. On this trip, Achi found subsidies to electrify a welfare organisation for young single parents that his father ran. The solar system made it easier to reach the small well at the bottom of the hill. “We wanted to help people,” he says. “I want to help my country develop its renewable energy systems.”

Just under 30% of Ivorians living in rural areas do not have access to electricity; nationally, over half the population of 23 million has access. Ivory Coast also supplies electricity to neighbouring countries. “At that time, there were similar companies out there, but which lacked people with technical skills.” AD Solar was registered officially in 2014, managing installations with a wide network of technicians and engineers. AD Solar broke even in its second year.

By Achi’s accounts, the company did not have auspicious beginnings – he says it was “very difficult”, particularly because he doesn’t believe that solar is cheaper. “People think solar reduces their energy bills,” he says. “Solar is actually more expensive in Ivory Coast; a shipment can cost double what it might in Europe. The customs duties are 45%.” Ivorians accessing the grid also have to pay upfront for a meter. “We have a system where you have to pay for everything, and then save on it over time. In Africa in general, people find long term investment difficult.”

Kablan Assikro AD Solar (1)

One solution that he is pursuing is to form an alliance with five or six smaller companies, and create a group purchasing organisation. “7% of solar companies had to close in the last six months,” he says. Many big organisations are coming into Ivory Coast too; “We don’t want to die so quickly!” he laughs. Another solution is to manage a lack of customers, bar wealthier individuals, by working with international organisations, local institutions and NGOs. In 2015, a contract from state regulator Le Conseil du Cafe-Cacao – Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest cocoa producer – led to the electrification of three villages.

Usually, the main utilities in a village get the solar treatment; the village chief’s home, the community centre, some street lights. “Minigrids would power a whole village, but it’s expensive, and is more a state project. Another issue is that people would have to pay to replace solar batteries on what was otherwise an EU-funded project every decade. It’s expensive, so the government is in discussions about this.” The Ivory Coast plans to build a 25MW solar PV plant in the north of the country. Recently, 7 minigrids were installed by a European company in the north of the country. Achi says it was “impressive” that a fridge was the first thing to be powered in one village. “People being able to drink cold water is a sign of modernity. Cold, fresh water is the new Coca-Cola!” AD Solar’s next strategy will be to distribute mobile solar pumps, to encourage industry and local revenue.

“For Ivorians, charging phones, and having a television, is more important than having light,” says Achi, who believes that rural areas are safer thanks to solar lighting. “People want to be informed about what is happening in the world, to access life, actually.” Ivorians are jovial, says Achi – positive in character, even when life is difficult. It would seem that from Reims to the port city of Abidjan, there is not much of a difference in lifestyle. “African countries are increasing their industry; we see French supermarkets like Carrefour everywhere now. We have good roads. I don’t need to go to France to have the same products!” If anything, Achi hints that he probably wouldn’t miss Ivorian traffic jams.

Nabeelah Shabbir, @lahnabee 

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-david-achi-ad-solar-entreprise/

Shyam Patra, Naturetech Infrastructure – solar entrepreneur


Shyam Patra, Founder and Director at Naturetech Infrastructure

“We are ensuring that electricity is available and all the basic services are available. We don’t provide the electricity and then wait for the rest to happen.”


The first time Shyam Patra visited India’s rural north, he was working for a traditional energy company and helping to pick a suitable location for a power plant. Once construction began, some of the local villages gave up parcels of land so that the power plant could be built; when it was completed, they faced increased pollution of air and water. Yet they did not benefit from the power generated at the plan, all of which was exported. The situation struck Patra as unfair and he began think of ways to help residents of the region.

About a year later, in 2011, Patra founded a new company, Naturetech Infrastructure. The company initially offered picosolar lanterns and cell phone chargers, along with small energy grids that powered 15 to 20 rural households at a time. The company’s staff collected about US$2.00 a month from each household to recover the expenses.

Shyam Patra addresses gathering after inauguration (1)


Since then, Naturetech has expanded its offerings in every way. It serves more than 50 villages, all of them in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and a total population of about 50,000 people benefits from the company’s services. Those include not only electricity but also sanitation, drinking water, agricultural irrigation, street lighting, and infrastructure for village marketplaces and schools.

“If in the schools there are no amenities for studies, then there is no opportunity for livelihood,” Patra says. “Then, even if you have a power plant in the village, that won’t ensure the development of the village.”

Residents no longer use kerosene in villages served by the Naturetech, improving the air quality. That’s of particular benefit to women, who are more likely to spend time at home. The quality of drinking water has improved as well, as the company has replaced hand-operated water pumps with electric ones.

Many households in villages served by the company have seen incomes go up due to improved irrigation. “They’re better off because before they farmed only in monsoon season,” Patra says. “Now they’re doing vegetables in the garden year-round.”

Patra estimates that, by generating electricity from solar panels and not from coal, oil, or natural gas, Naturetech prevents the emission of about 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

The company has seven full-time staff members on its payroll, but hires many more as temporary contractors. It earned about US$125,000 in 2016, primarily through donations received through the Indian government’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy, which since 2014 has required corporations to donate two per cent of their net profit to charity.

signage in Allahabad

The company’s reliance on this policy points to several serious challenges Naturetech is currently facing. The main problem, Patra says, is that the Indian government already provides some power in all but the most isolated places. But the government does this in a way that is almost free of charge, and provides only eight to 10 hours of power a day. As a result, companies like Naturetech are forced to build a second, parallel electrical grid, and then collect payments from customers accustomed to free or nearly free power.

“Politicians and policy makers see electricity as a way to get votes and they don’t see economics behind it,” Patra says. “All these guys are our customers, but the government power is free of cost. It’s very tough for us to get a sizable amount and recoup the cost of capital.”

Patra has seen other solar companies adapt to the situation by specialising in building power plants for banks, cell phone towers, and other commercial customers that need reliable power. But he doesn’t want Naturetech to go that way. “Primarily, we are the guys who are working at the village level,” he explains. “If we leave that context, then there’s no social component left and it’s purely commercial, and we lose our significance. We lose our social responsibility.”

Policy solutions could make life easier for companies like Naturetech. “They need to withdraw themselves,” he says, referring to the government. “They need to appoint people like us as franchisee: then it is your task to distribute the power and collect money from the customers. If they do that, then we can survive.”

But Patra doesn’t sound optimistic about this change happening anytime soon. He believes that a politician who advocated such a move would quickly lose power. What’s more, the franchisee would have a difficult job because the existing government grids consist of “bare connectors” that make theft easy. “You need to lay a separate set of fully armoured cables with metering,” Patra explains.

Yet the company has plans to increase its revenues even without major policy changes. Patra says Naturetech is developing a new line of “smart meters,” and is currently conducting field trials. The meters simplify rural power delivery because they send data on electricity use to an online app, eliminating the need for manual meter reading and paper bills.

“Everything runs automatically and if a customer doesn’t pay on time, his meter will be turned off,” Patra explains. He says this product will be priced competitively and will be attractive in many markets around the world, particularly in Africa. He expects it to be an important new revenue stream for Naturetech.

Meanwhile, Patra is confident that Naturetech’s approach—packaging services like sanitation and irrigation together with a solar grid—truly encourages sustainable economic development. He’d like to expand to another 50 to 100 villages each year for the next five years, but believes he’ll need “patient capital” to achieve that goal. In other words, he’s seeking financiers who are willing to wait to reap the rewards of growth, and who won’t attempt to change the company’s strategy in order to speed up the process.

Meawhile, opportunities are beginning to emerge from the difficulties in the Indian government’s electrification scheme. In some places, where the grid is particularly weak, the government has begun allowing a private company to manage a local grid for five years at a time.

“The government feels that a solar grid, 20 or 30 kW, is a reliable solution in those villages,” Patra says. “Directly or indirectly, we will get some business.”


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-shyam-patra-naturetech-infrastructure/

Segun Adaju, Consistent Energy Limited – solar entrepreneur


Segun Adaju, CEO at Consistent Energy Limited

“I think Nigeria has the biggest market for this kind of business in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.”


To get a sense of Nigeria’s problems in the energy sector, it helps to know that more 60 million people in the country have their own gas-powered generators. In many city streets, a generator churns outside every business, pumping out pollution and costing Nigerians more than US$1.5 trillion a year in fuel costs.

That problem caught the attention of former banker Segun Adaju, who had transitioned away from his first career to work more directly on Nigeria’s problems with poverty. He soon came to believe that access to energy was key to solving those problems. “Most rural dwellers stay in poverty because they don’t have energy to process their farm products,” Adaju says. “They lose almost half of what they harvest.”

Connecting solar panels for a new client. SolarDirect...on your rooftop

In 2012, Adaju attacked that problem by founding BlueOcean Nigeria, a nonprofit organisation that focused on displacing kerosene lanterns with solar ones. From 2012 to 2015, the group deployed more than 10,000 small solar products to people living in rural areas of the country. Most customers finished paying off their lantern in two to four months, Adaju says, primarily with savings from not buying kerosene. That work improved the lives of customers, especially women who sell fish and vegetables at night and need light to work by.

But small business owners consistently said they wanted larger, more robust technology capable of replacing their generators and powering their barbershops, farms, and hair salons. In 2016, Adaju launched a pilot version of a new firm, Consistent Energy, with those clients in mind. This time, he chose a for-profit business model, and capitalised it with US$50,000 of his own savings. With additional investments from other former bankers, the company has now raised about US$200,000.

Consistent Energy’s most popular product is a mid-sized solar system that includes a 300W rooftop solar panel with a 650W inverter and a 150A battery. These business-scale units cost between US$900 and US$1,500, depending on the specifications of the technology. Consistent requires a down payment of about 10 per cent, followed by payments on a weekly basis. Most customers take 18 to 24 months to pay off their purchase.

Engineering team preparing for an installation

Adaju says the primary beneficiaries tend to be women and girls. Part of the reason for that is that women tend to be the ones who spend time seeking fuel for the generators, so displacing generators with solar power saves them time. The systems also increase the income they make from their microbusinesses, and reduces the pollution they inhale.

Consistent Energy hasn’t limited itself to solving household-level problems. It has signed on to collaborate with the United Nations Development Programme on the rehabilitation of Nigeria’s northeastern region, which was thrown into crisis by the actions of the armed Islamist group Boko Haram. “The idea is to rehabilitate some refugees and internally displaced persons in Bono State,” Adaju says. “That region has the best sun in Nigeria: seven to eight peak sun hours.” He hopes that better access to solar technology will help get displaced people from northeast Nigeria back to their villages and avoid what he calls “an impending human rights crisis.”

Solar installers undergoing training

The main challenge faced by the company is financing, which so far has come entirely from the personal savings of Adaju and his contacts. Adaju says the company is ready to scale and is seeking capital from angel investors, Nigeria’s Bank of Industry, and the African Development Bank.

Nigeria’s policy environment is a second challenge. “Unlike in other countries, where clean energy is being encouraged with tax rebates and exceptions, in Nigeria it’s not like that,” Adaju says. “There’s no waiver, no incentives.”

Yet Adaju is convinced that the opportunities for his company are strong. He points out that more than 65 per cent of Nigerian neighbourhoods are not connected to the grid—a total of at least 70 million people. And even those who have grid access usually get only four to five hours of power each day. Adaju knows these problems firsthand. “As I speak to you right now, our office is completely powered by solar,” he says. “We have not had grid power for several days.”

He sees access to renewable energy as key to the development of the Nigerian economy. “It’s just about the idea of creating energy for development and acting as a catalyst for development. So energy for productive use, energy for the agricultural value chain, for health care, for education, for infrastructure.”

Adaju is hopeful that his company will be part of that potential transformation. “We want to be the standalone rooftop solar company in Nigeria,” he said. “Between now and 2030, we’d like to have one million beneficiaries. So that’s the kind of vision we’ve set for ourselves. We’re hoping to quickly raise enough capital and deploy it.”

-James Trimarco, Writer and Researcher, @jamestrimarco[:]

Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-segun-adaju-consistent-energy-limited/

Mawuli Tse, Solar Light Africa – solar entrepreneur


Mawuli Tse, Director, Solar Light Africa
Location: Accra, Ghana
“Good technology migrates by itself”

In the early nineties, Mawuli Tse spent time in Cape Verde, as part of a group working to install 5,000 photovoltaic systems in homes on the archipelago. “They were so progressive,” he says. “My thought was, if Cape Verde was doing so much, then why not Ghana.” In 1998, the mechanical engineer, who studied at MIT in the US, launched Solar Light Africa. The limited liability company was launched with his own funds, and the hands-on support of family members. Some 400 systems have been sold, impacting around 2000 people. More than half of Solar Light Africa’s customers are still using their solar systems ten years on, according to a recent internal report, says Tse.

Solar Light Africa started with “bold and ambitious ideas which tempered over time,” laughs Tse; his background includes forays in the software, telecoms and internet industries. The team “quickly abandoned” experiments in building their own controllers and other components, going for tried and proven solutions. However, the core philosophy remains. “One of the ideas that has driven us to this day is that if we can build it, we should,” says Tse. “We also adapt designs for this market. The day we buy complete systems or kits from someplace and just plunk them onto a customer’s front porch is the day we are out of business.”

Solar Light Africa storefront in Ghana

Solar Light Africa storefront in Ghana

Solar Light Africa has consciously stayed away from working in rural communities, for example the Volta region, which ranges from coast, grassland, hilly areas and savannah. This is not necessarily about access, but other limitations. “Rural has been a perfect storm of bad business,” he explains. For one, there is a poor customer base in dispersed communities where it is difficult to maintain the systems. As the company has evolved from supplies and installations to becoming service-focused and using “best in class” components, so too has the fact made it incompatible with rural zones. “As a service business particularly, it’s going to be inordinately expensive to service rural customers.”

Solar Light Africa imageone

Solar Light Africa team, 2016

For Tse, this is not an elitist stance, but born from a perspective which is pragmatic and welcomes opportunity. “Our philosophy is that good technology migrates by itself,” he says. By creating the necessary pathways, he explains, the technology will reach rural areas organically. “Nobody ever had a subsidy or development programme for plastic buckets – yet in an isolated community in the middle of a forest, you’ll find a plastic bucket. You could argue that it is cheap enough; mobile phones are expensive in comparison. Yet even there, Nokia has never set up a foundation for rural integration of mobile phones.” The tendering process of working in rural communities is also an element which repels Tse. “Maybe if I were winning I would think differently,” he laughs.

There are some instances when Solar Light Africa has worked in rural areas. Around 120 street vendors are using the Sunana solar mobile charger systems, in a programme supported by the US African Development Foundation under the African Power Renewable Challenge. The popularity of power banks “pushed” their work to outside of urban areas. “We use a rental model and an agency model where people remit the funds back.” In a separate service contract for schools, logistics have proven to be expensive despite local support. “In these cases everywhere we go, we do train a local engineer, on a small scale.”

Clean panels to keep batteries alive longer by Solar Light Africa

The company advises cleaning the panels to prolong battery life

In almost two decades of being in business, Tse describes the business as going through a “cyclical” process, rather than one of direct growth. Business naturally has peaked during Ghana’s many national power shortages, or “dumsor” (off-on). “The major ones were when we started, then in 2004, 2008, and the worst period was 2013-2016, which is when business picked up.” As for Ghana’s target of increasing its non-hydro renewable energy capacity to 10% by 2020, it is a “good and reasonable” target – though he believes the design of the programme could do with some work.

Nabeelah Shabbir   @lahnabee 


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-mawuli-tse-solar-light-africa/

Richard Fahey, Liberian Energy Network (LEN) – solar entrepreneur


Richard Fahey, CEO, Liberian Energy Network (LEN)

Location: Liberia

“We give Liberians, be they fishermen or child soldiers, a powerful tool to do their job better”

When a shipment of solar lights disappeared at the port of Hamburg en route from China, only to turn up three months later, every single battery dead. It was the early days of the Liberian Energy Network (LEN). Founder Richard Fahey had spent his whole budget on the pilot, hot on the heels of a focus group with locals. After 14 years of civil war, less than 2% of the rural population are connected to the grid – that’s half of the population of 4.5 million. Only 10% in urban areas can access the grid.abubakar sharif len

The process of getting a technician out from Denmark, as suggested by the lights company, would take too long. “I thought we were dead in the water,” he says. Abubakar K. Sherif, president of the company, led Fahey out onto the streets of Monrovia. The plan was to find a mechanic, someone with their head under a bonnet, who might know how to to work with LED battery acid. The LEN office at the time was a “dark, hot, humid basement with one lightbulb” downtown where David, a former child soldiers, examined the batteries; “We need to go and see George”, was the prognosis. The investigation led them to George in what seemed like a cavern, the floor littered with batteries and pools of acid. George knew how to rebuild batteries. “He had one of the few connections to the tiny little grid that existed in Monrovia,” remembers Fahey. “We sat in that dank basement for a week and a half! Everything is about managing failure!”

For Fahey, the “huge” lesson when it comes to development and enterprise, is that Liberia – “despite being a tough place to do business” – has the resources to solve problems with what they have. “We didn’t have to fly in an electrical engineer from Europe. Locals are just otherwise sitting there, forced to do nothing,” says Fahey. The Liberian Energy Network employs a team of 12 locally. There is always a technician on staff, to service the lights people are getting, as well as two new engineer recruits. As a social enterprise, it provides services and goods at the base of the pyramid. “Rather than driving around and giving out lights off the back of a lorry to a bunch of needy people and thinking that’s development, the overarching approach is how to do high volume, low margin business.”

len hq

LEN sells most of its products goods; for Fahey, the ideal situation would be to absolutely break even, where cost would equal revenue. “It’s been an interesting journey,” he says. “The idea is not to reinvent the wheel. Mostly in development people take the ‘lunar module’ approach – doing something, leaving and not changing anything aside from leaving a few footprints. There are a lot of layers to it; we also want to create social capital.” Being a fellow at Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, where he formulated LEN, “cut several years off the learning curve,” says Fahey, who describes the year-long experience as valuable, and was also where he recruited his co-founder. “The most important thing is that we had the opportunity to really vet the idea with really smart people who could tell me I was nuts, or were encouraging. It can be a dangerous thing to talk to yourself a lot – and convince yourself you’re ahead of the curve.”

Fahey directs back to the key idea behind LEN – to create a market and deliver goods. This is why fishermen are as much on LEN’s visor as former child soldiers (via a USAID Youth Advancing Project) or a 24-hour theatre at a hospital in Bong County. “I give them a new powerful tool to do their job better that adds value to their lives and their efforts. We’re looking at the market for electricity and power.” LEN has also worked with Save the Children to provide solar lights for kits 150 clinics.

Mostly, says Fahey, the approach in development is transactional. “Reputation is important, and we branded ourselves, which is fairly unusual there. Trust in our brand is a powerful tool for future engagement and development. We have also created a database.” When Fahey volunteered for the peace corps in Liberia in the sixties, he remembers making one phone call by payphone. The mobile phone market had no competition. “Frankly, I stole the idea when I was there in 2009 and looked around!” he laughs, about the desire to make Liberia the first country to be powered by the sun. “Why spend of tens of thousands of dollars build great big grids and stationary transmissions, when you just do what’s happened with phones!”

14,000 lights have been distributed so far, including 6,000 lights to children and teachers in Gbopolu County. 300 lights were given out during the Ebola crisis, which killed 5,000 in Liberia. During the latter, LEN helped improved site security around the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR). There are challenges ahead. The goals is to “distribute more than 100,000 solar lighting units at a value of over $5,300,000 USD which, with an average of over 5 people per household in Liberia, will provide safe, reliable lighting for nearly 15% of the country’s population”.

The next, key step is to scale. LEN needs to access financial resources; the “extremely weak” banking system in Liberia doesn’t help. “I could show any other commercial bank that we have a viable market, model and goods which meet the needs of the market, and come up with some lines of credit. That doesn’t exist.” Thus far, it’s been hard, says Fahey. LEN has got by on self-funding and enjoyed the aid of a couple of individual angel investors. In 2016, a 100,000 USD grant from the US Africa Development Fund led to a project at the Firestone rubber plantation. 10,000 workers, many belonging to the Firestone Agricultural & Workers Union (Fawul), live and work here, and now access solar lighting via microlending.

Inspiration also came from more high-level quarters, in the form of a fortuitous two-hour meeting with president Ellen Sirleaf. Fahey was an attorney visiting the country, since he had experience of land law in Liberia. He spoke to Sirleaf about the barriers of a country which has struggled with a two-decade long civil war. “I wanted to know, despite the president’s great plans, how you get over the barrier of trauma and disorganisation, where people don’t feel empowered to make progress? She, being very smart, turned the question on me. She called my bluff. The president told me I was viewed as part of the diaspora, and told me to do something about it!” So Fahey did.


Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee


Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-richard-fahey-liberian-energy-network-len/

Jeroen Verschelling, Kamworks – solar home system entrepreneur


Jeroen Verschelling, Chairman and Co-founder,  Kamworks

Location:  Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“It’s hard to go faster than the market”

Jeroen Verschelling first designed his zero-energy home when he was a consultant for Ecofys, taking notes in the back of a conference room with experts on how to build homes in the tropics. Verschelling spent three years living in the solar-powered home with his family in rural Cambodia. He co-founded Kamworks in 2006 with fellow Dutch solar engineers. Today, the company employs 20 people, and has impacted over 200,000 people.

Verschelling noticed a trend in countries like Africa and Indonesia, where people had scant access to the grid. In Cambodia, over two-thirds of its population of 14.5 million do not have access to grid electricity. “The UNDP and World Bank were parachuting solar systems into villages, but if you went back two years later, nothing worked. We wanted to change that.” Co-founder Arjen Luxwolda, who had spent his summers working in Cambodia as a volunteer, was the first to move; Verschelling moved two years later. “He left his job at Nestle, sold his house and built a workshop in Cambodia.” A production line for solar lanterns was set up. Inventions included Moonlight, a white PV LED light system, following a “co-design method” in collaboration with entrepreneurs in the field and foreign students. The market price was 20 USD – high, compared to a 1 USD kerosene lamp, but the customers understood.

“From a Western perspective, the thought is that people need light,” says Verschelling, about managing expectations of what the needs on the ground were. “People wanted TVs. At 6pm in the countryside, it gets dark, you can’t go out, and people get bored. It’s a window to the world. People get left behind – they have to look after their lands, and can’t move to the cities and where the opportunities are. They become the losers, and it’s not fair.”

Photos courtesy of M. Young/Kamworks.

Photos courtesy of M. Young/Kamworks.

Luck and hard work has been part of the game, says Verschelling. The co-founders invested their own money, and the social enterprise received a “development marketplace” award from the World Bank whilst it was still in the product development stage; followed by some major awards and grants, enabling it to develop its technologies. The company is still to turn a profit, he says, but is close. “We have to live off the margins of the things that we sell.” To date, that includes 14,000 solar home systems, reducing 3,7000 tons of Co2 emissions.

Kamworks has partnerships with prestigious universities around the world, including Stanford and MIT, connecting Khmer students who work with foreign visitors. When Kamworks launched, the onus was on product development, hand in hand with design students from Delft University. Verschelling estimates that one out of ten products, if at all, made it to the development stages. One, a solar electric tricycle-cum-mobile shop, was crafted to improve distribution in rural areas. “It didn’t really work, but a lot of people wanted the tricycle – they have been asking us about it for years afterwards!” The most ambitious, he remembers, was a solar television prototype, made out of recycled computer screens. “It proved hard to scale up the production,” he says. “It’s hard to go faster than the market.” If he could, he says, he would invent a solar toilet. “So much data is literally going down the drain!” he laughs.

The next move at Kamworks was to develop solar home systems, which led to the launch of rental and credit schemes, as well as microfinance (MFI). A lot has changed in 12 years, “People didn’t know solar back then, which was the first hurdle,” says Verschelling. “Affordability was the next biggest hurdle. But now solar panels have become commoditised.” The company developed a ‘PAYGO’ system, keeping track of mobile payments via a keyboard which is attached to the product. A more advanced product has a GSM signal, allowing Kamworks to use the data connection to investigate the system, which is one solution to the problem of logistics in getting to remote locations. One useful manoeuvre allows Kamworks to switch off any customers who are not paying. “We’ve also integrated preventative maintenance and compare the performance of different systems in a village,” he adds, and will be expanding this model to other countries. A few years ago in 2014, when the Cambodian government announced that all villages would be electrified by 2020 , Verschelling admits he was surprised. It’s all progress from here.

Nabeelah Shabbir @lahnabee



Permanent link to this article: https://e4sv.org/interview-jeroen-verschelling-kamworks/

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