INNOVATION IS MAKING CLEAN ENERGY ACCESS ACCESSIBLE

The World Bank estimates that if Africa is to achieve the SDG7 target, it will need significant private investment in the energy sector. This will not be achieved if industry doesn’t start demonstrating the investment models and technology required.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

As the bankability of decentralised off-grid projects for remote rural Africa remains a core challenge, a team of FinTech energy solutions providers have developed a clean power model to make energy access accessible and affordable for rural communities. The stage 1 pilot project, which commenced in April 2018, is scheduled for completion in March 2019.

In 2018, the SolaFin2Go project was designed to address the challenge of providing standalone cost effective solar systems to generate clean power and hot water for off-grid households in sub-Saharan Africa. The concept
was established in a living laboratory in the off-grid community of Jamataka in the central region of Botswana. Jamataka is a village of over 1,000 people, with a primary school roll of 360, a village clinic, and a service infrastructure of village shops, police, and chief ’s office.

The village has a water supply but has never had grid electricity. Candles, tilly lamps, gensets, and wild harvested wood are the most commonly used fuels for lighting and cooking. The objective of the SolaFin2Go pilot is to test the feasibility of ‘entry level’ technological solutions combining traditional
solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal technologies financed through improved business PAYG models (enabled by the innovative FinTech platform through mobile, cloud and blockchain technologies).

The FinTech model was in development for three years, including technologies which address the required banking modalities and standards
around ‘in bounding’ a customer creating an ‘eResidency’, which complies with the World Bank ID2020 guidelines on digital identities.

Once the customer is verified it provides technologies which enable transactional and monitoring activity. Among the project funders Innovate UK, DFID and The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the partners include the UK’s Centre for Sustainable Technology at the University of Ulster (lead partners for the stage 1); UK registered spin
out company from Ulster University, SolaForm (who owns the patent for the solar thermal technology project); and UK solar module manufacturer, DPSun.

The only African partner, an innovation company based in Botswana, EmPowered FinTech, has developed the FinTech platform working with technology partners around the globe. However, additional partners and technologies are needed in order to scale the project further to include smart meters, which can undertake the functions required for the enabling of the business case.

KEYNOTES
Logistics and regulatory requirements were challenging. The sheer amount of paperwork involved called for commitment of long lead times from project members. An experienced local partner is essential to the success of the project.

The communities involved know the value of electricity and they want to pay for the new services it can bring. They are not expecting it for free and want to be treated as customers. Another focus area for the project developers was the impact that the provision of electricity can bring to a community.

Within weeks of the installation at the Jamataka primary schoolgoers goers had the opportunity to use computers for the first time and it was wonderful to see the reaction of the schoolchildren involved. Access to clean, affordable reliable electricity is an enabler towards the implementation of so many of the SGDs.

PROJECT EXPANSION
The establishment of a living laboratory in the off-grid community of Jamataka in the central region of Botswana in October 2018 is allowing
us to monitor in real time the energy use for a variety of users. The stage 2 project plan involves a much larger project in Jamataka, which will commence in April 2019.

This stage will increase the client base and lets developers live-test more of the innovative technologies being deployed, including the IoT supported by
the installed LoRa-Wan system. We have extended the partnership to include other new technology partners in our stage 2 proposal.

The SolaNetwork project is a continuation of the SolaFin2Go concept based
on the successful demonstration of the ‘entry level’ SolaFin2Go technology that addresses the challenge of providing standalone solar systems to make available cost-effective and affordable access to electricity and thermal hot water for off-grid households in sub-Saharan Africa.

The proposed SolaNetwork project will implement larger scale deployments of standalone Solafin2go technologies in Jamataka. The full project results will be published after the field trials are complete in Q1 of 2019.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the full digital magazine here, or subscribe here to receive a print copy.