German university TH Köln is setting up a solar energy system at a school in the Dossa region of Niger as part of a pilot project in the country to demonstrate the concept of productive use of power.
Together with international partners the TH Köln wants to show that a solar system would not only improve the local water, electricity and food supply, but also strengthen the rural economy and provide a profitable business model for local investors.
A consortium of African and German universities and private companies is specifically targeting the rural area of Niger because of the low degree of energy access which is hampering economic growth.
The RE-TO-DOSSO project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the Client II – International Partnerships for Sustainable Innovations measure over three years, for a €2.6 million ($3.05 million) investment. The Institute for Technology and Resource Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT) at the TH Köln acts as the consortium leader.
Professor Ramchandra Bhandari of the ITT at TH Köln said: “In Niger, according to the local electricity supply authority, only 25% of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, where around 84% of the population live, the proportion is only 8%.”
This first solar system meant for the school will be around 200 square metres in size, and able to generate between 15 and 20 kilowatts of power.
The electricity generated will be used to operate a groundwater pump with drinking water treatment. Together with new irrigation concepts, this is meant to promote the local agriculture sector.
Electricity generated could also be purchased by the local villages for their companies or to develop new business ideas. Battery rental for villages, the use of cold storage for agricultural products, the ability to charge mobile devices or an e-moped as a taxi and delivery services, are all productive use of energy ideas being mooted as possible once the electricity comes on stream. Additionally, supplying houses in the villages with energy is also being considered.
“After the installation, a local entrepreneur operates the solar system. We want to show that power generation not only advances the place, but is also a profitable business model. If it becomes clear that money can be made with our concept, this will hopefully motivate investors to install and operate solar systems elsewhere in the country,” said Bhandari.
Switching on the next generation
The project partners chose a secondary school as the location for this first installation as this is a site most common to villages in the country which exposes the next generation to the idea of solar power.
“This location has the advantage that the children come into contact with renewable energies at an early stage and develop an awareness of sustainable thinking. In addition, they are our multipliers in the village community, so that as many people as possible hear about the project and develop their own business ideas,” said Bhandari.
In order to support the research activities that might become available as the solar system comes online, the pilot project will also establish laboratories for hybrid energy systems and green energy at the Abdou Oumouni University of Niamey in the capital of Niger.
These will be equipped with simulation modules for photovoltaics, wind turbines, battery storage and a specialist library as well as a solar-powered alkaline electrolyser to study hydrogen production.