Sierra Leone
Winch Energy has powered 24 villages and a community health centre in Sierra Leon’s northern region. Image: Winch Energy.

Off-grid utilities provider Winch Energy has won the International Environmental Impact Award at the British Expertise International Awards 2020 for a power project in Sierra Leone.

The award acknowledges Winch Energy’s efforts to provide clean, affordable energy to more than 40,000 people in the country’s Koinadugu, Bombali and Tonkolili districts.

The award-winning development uses Winch Energy’s proprietary technology to power 24 villages and a community health centre in Sierra Leone’s northern region. The project was co-funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (now replaced by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) to supply sustainable renewable energy to populations who had no access to or were previously underserved by the national grid.

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Winch Energy Group CEO Nicholas Wrigley: “We are now one of the largest electricity providers in Sierra Leon, in spite of geographical challenges that come with working in remote areas and the added difficulties of the pandemic. We are looking to expand our footprint into many other villages. In the next year, we expect to connect a further 10,000 people in the country to renewable, smart energy.”

Off-grid utility ventures into productive use of energy for Sierra Leone

Run in partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services in Sierra Leone, the project has also developed local enterprises. Working with microcredit operator EasySolar has made electrical appliances available to the communities through micro-credit. A partnership with telecom operator Orange gives villages access to mobile money services and telecoms. Since Winch Energy started powering the villages in April, 83% of customers say their livelihood has improved and 56% of customers say their income has increased.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Winch Energy electrified a further 12 community health centres, giving them free power to ensure patients and healthcare professionals could reliably access clean water, lighting and specialist equipment such as ventilators. The off-grid utility provider has also installed modular power battery systems to benefit community members not yet directly connected to the mini-grids. They also plan to pilot an electric vehicle programme from March 2021.

“This award shines a light on the life-changing improvements reliable power can bring to people in remote communities. It also shows how partnerships between the public and private sector can successfully boost developing economies and act as a force for environmental good,” explained Wrigley.

The awards celebrate the best of UK expertise in international development, infrastructure and capacity building. Judge Steve Burgin, an advisory board member for Strategy International and non-executive direct of Offshore Wind Growth Partnership, said the Environmental Impact Award recognises outstanding achievements that deploy expertise and innovation to make a meaningful, positive change in countries working towards meeting their Sustainable Development Goals.

“This year we applaud a project that switches rural communities to low carbon and renewable sources of energy whilst still promoting sustainable and inclusive economic development. Let’s hope this is just one important step towards ever wider rollout of renewable power to communities across this region and beyond,” said Burgin.