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Moroccan-American Team Wins First African Solar Decathlon

Comments (0) Business, Environment, Technology

In a time where climate change is a phrase on many people’s lips, it is heartening to see renewed efforts to find ways to use renewable energy in our daily lives. One such effort is The Solar Decathlon Africa, first held in Morocco in September, 2019. The principal idea behind the contest is for international collegiate teams to build a house – judged over 10 categories – that is solely powered by the sun. The contest is modelled on the original Solar Decathlon held every second year in the U.S. since 2002. 

The contest has expanded from America, with Solar Decathlons now held in Europe, China, Latin America and Caribbean, and the Middle East, as well as this new one in Africa. 

To Design and Construct a House That Uses Zero Net Energy

The inaugural African competition, held in Ben Guerir in Morocco’s central Rehamna Province, took place from September 13th to the 27th, 2019. With more than 1,200 entrants from 20 countries, the competition is not only international but is also underpinned by international cooperation as many of the teams comprised members from more than one country. 

The idea is to design and construct a house that uses zero net energy. That is to say, the whole house must be powered by renewable energy, in this case solar. Teams are judged over the following 10 categories, with each category offering 10 points to be won (architecture, engineering and construction, market appeal, comfort conditions, appliances, sustainability…).

There were two primary organisers of the competition in Morocco. The first was IRESEN; a research organisation and institute founded in 2011 by the Moroccan Ministry of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment, and which cooperates with several of Morocco’s key energy companies. The second organiser was Ben Guerir’s University Mohammed VI Polytechnic. The jury consisted of 27 members, chosen from a wide range of fields including education and business and representing several countries. 

One factor all teams were asked to incorporate into their designs was recognition of Africa’s cultural and architectural heritage. With harsh conditions across the continent, building design has often evolved to recognise this challenge and to include features which protects inhabitants against these climactic factors. A good example of this is the narrows streets and thick-walled houses found in Morocco’s Medina which keep the heat out at the height of summer and in when the winters get cold. 

The Inter House Winner of the First African Competition

The winners of this first African competition were the Inter House Team, a multidisciplinary cooperative effort between Colorado’s School of Mines, Marrakech’s National School of Architecture, and Cadi Ayyad University, also from Marrakech. They used CSEBs (Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks) as their primary building material for the house walls, comprised of 95% local soil and 5% lime cement to stabilize the blocks. Not only do these CSEBs reflect the traditional brickwork of Morocco, but they also provide work for locals while offering a sustainable and energy efficient building material. 

One thing the team wanted to achieve was the marriage of modern and traditional values and styles. Taking inspiration from the famed courtyards which often form the heart of Moroccan homes, the team also made the courtyard the centre of their design. As well as offering a private outdoor space, the courtyard divided the home in two, with sleeping areas to the northwest and living and dining areas to the southeast.

But, of course, the main idea behind these designs was to be energy efficient, a real challenge in the local climate. The house’s CERV (conditioning energy recovery ventilator) utilised a highly efficient heat pump that exchanged energy between the incoming supply and the outgoing exhaust air. Combined with the CSEB walls used, this system not only keeps the house full of fresh air, but also monitors air quality throughout the house using special sensors. The system also allows occupants to monitor and set the home’s VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) and CO2 levels as well as temperature and humidity levels. 

To Allow To Control Lighting, Window Shades

The home also features a state of the art HACS (Home Automated Control System) that allows the homeowners to not only monitor several environmental aspects of the home’s interior but also to control things such as lighting, window shades, etc. 

Power for the house comes from two types of solar panels. The first is a rooftop system that supplies most of the house and the second is a solar thermal system to supply renewable hot water. The way the system was designed using heat transfer eliminates any need for boilers or electric pumps. 

One of the most innovative features of the winning design was its constructed wetland, a specially designed and built black water filtration system. The water filters through rocks and plants where natural bacteria remove or breaks down any toxins or pathogens. This not only sustains the plants in the filtration system but also provides water to use for landscaping or irrigation. 

An Increasing Level of Cooperation across Borders and Between Diverse Organizations

With increasing worry over a changing climate, it is encouraging to see not only innovative ideas in creating energy efficient homes, but also the increasing level of cooperation across borders and between diverse organizations. While the homes in the competition, complete with all their technological gadgetry, are mainly aimed at middle class buyers, many of the ideas will be able to be incorporated into lower income homes in the future. 

Photos : insidearabia.com / iresen.org

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Simbarashe Mhuriro: Zimbabwe’s savy solar innovator

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

solar power in africa

Simbarashe Mhuriro and his company OurSun Energy Limited are creating an ambitious solar powered future for Zimbabwe.

A surge of innovation is electrifying Africa. A new wave of savvy, ambitious entrepreneurs with big ideas are pushing the envelope, and invigorating nations. Simbarashe Mhuriro, is one such person. Simba, as he likes to be known, is the 31 year old Executive Director of OurSun Energy in Zimbabwe. His firm has set out ambitious goals to bring wide scale renewable solar energy to Zimbabwe

Business beginnings

Simbarashe Mhuriro

Simba grew up in Marondera, Zimbabwe, just 30 kilometers from the capital Harare.  He attended a local school and by all accounts had a normal childhood. He didn’t start his career as a business high flyer. Simba recalled how his first jobs were rather ordinary, and not particularly indicative of the career he has gone on to pursue. His early jobs included working as a school teacher and even as a disk jockey before becoming a hotel reservations agent.

He built upon his hospitality career and moved to Dubai after landing himself a job with hotel giant Emaar Hospitality Group. As he climbed the ladder, Simba rubbed shoulders with established business people from a variety of industries while gaining a sound understanding of the corporate world. In 2010, he decided that given his business skills and knowledge of Zimbabwe, he wanted to create his own firm.

Partnership and major solar plans for Zimbabwe

Simba found two seasoned business partners in Andrew Connelly and Honour Mkushi. The trio swiftly formed Oxygen Africa Ltd, a firm specializing in identifying opportunities and creating partnerships between foreign investors and projects in Zimbabwe. Originally the group focused on energy, mining and agriculture. However in 2012, Simba was introduced to Jo Hanns Dieter Trutschler, the principal of Meeco Group, a Swiss firm that creates solar energy projects in developing nations. Simba and Trutschler started to build a strong business relationship, with Trutschler tutoring the Zimbabwean on the workings of the solar energy sector. Simba said that this “literally got me hooked into solar, so I zoned in and said you know what, I have to get these guys to Zimbabwe with me.”

With Simba’s unique blend of business skills and Zimbabwean connections, and Meeco Group’s expertise in solar energy, a partnership was imminent. In 2014 the two groups formed the official joint venture OurSun Energy Limited.

Intensely passionate about OurSun’s program, Simba believes it can play a huge part in solving Zimbabwe’s energy issues. He explained why this is the case: “The Zimbabwean geographical situation is ideal for the implementation of solar energy and related applications such as energy storage, lighting or water pumping due to its level of radiation, one of the highest worldwide,”

While such a program seems ideal for Zimbabwe, the country is not known for being an easy place to do business. Bringing the myriad facets of OurSun’s program together has been no easy feat. Simba has been an instrumental facilitator responsible for dealing with authorities and regulation, identifying prospects, bringing in additional partners, managing imports, sourcing suppliers and overseeing the implementation of the projects.

Solar Energy stands to benefit Zimbabweans and their economy

OurSun aims to deliver 230MW of solar applications throughout Zimbabwe in the next ten years. The benefits of the scheme should be significant. In Simba’s words: “The main thrust for us is developing clean energy solutions for the well-being of the population, especially in remote and rural areas. They are the ones in urgent need of stable and reliable power.”

OurSun is also committed to seeing its schemes benefit the local economy. They are looking to maximize the amount of manufacturing, research and development and hiring that happens locally. The firm estimates that over 2,000 jobs will be created throughout the life-cycle of the scheme. Furthermore Simba has commented that the program represents a great opportunity to drive growth in the industry via the the “knowledge transfer” that will occur between OurSun and indigenous Zimbabweans, many of whom will be women and the young.

Tenacious individuals like Simba are essential to usher in change. Zimbabwe will enjoy the benefits of his conscientious work, and can be sure to see further contributions from this home-grown pioneer in the future.

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Tanzanian entrepreneur aims to light up his country with green energy

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

sunsweet solar

George Mtemahanji’s Tanzanian startup, Sunsweet Solar, looks to bring clean energy to its nation’s poorest people.

For 70% of Tanzanians, the only way to light up their homes after sundown is with a small kerosene-powered lamp. This shortage of electricity does not only affect people in their homes, but businesses and schools too. It was something that 22 year old George Mtemahanji understood well, as he had grown up in the small, rural town of Ifakara where kerosene was the only option for light after dusk.

Mtemahanji left his home in 2003 at only 9 years of age, as his mother took him to Italy in search of new opportunities. However, 8 years later he returned home, and upon seeing that the same energy problems still afflicted his hometown, he decided to find a solution.

The spark that can change lives

Mtemahanji was not only struck by how little things had changed in his place of birth, but also by how significant a lack of electricity was to the prospects for development. Mtemahanji explained, “Electricity supply is really important for the development of a country. Without electricity, New York or Johannesburg would just be villages – they’d be like Ifakara.”

At the time of his return, Mtemahanji was studying to be a technician in renewable energy, and the power situation within his home town immediately struck him as a problem that his training could help to solve. Mtemahanji said, “We have a lot of sun and it was really very strange that no one was doing something with solar energy.” The inspiration for Sunsweet Solar had been created, so Mtemahanji returned to Italy to discuss his ideas with a fellow student, Manuel Rolando.

By 2013, extensive research into solar energy in Tanzania had revealed that many locals simply did not trust solar energy as a reliable source due to poor quality installations that had proved inconsistent. However, Mtemahanji was confident that Rolando and he were capable of designing efficient, cost effective solar powered systems. The duo began approaching companies for funding, and found a Swiss company planning to build a photovoltaic plant (solar power plant) right in Mtemhanji’s hometown of Ifakara. The two young entrepreneurs offered to design and construct all the technical components of the plant for free, and their pitch was accepted.

Sunsweet Solar rises in the east

Mtemahanji’s voluntary work on the Swiss photovoltaic plant was a huge success; the plant is the largest of its kind in the Kilombero district, and it powers 200 lights, dozens of computers and can store 3 days’ worth of power. Moreover, it now proved to any other investor that Mtemahanji and Rolando had the requisite skills to complete their grand plans.

Mtemahanji was committed to ensuring that his home in East Africa would begin to finally see a rise in solar power, which would drive forward development, and would save money for the poorest people of his country. Sunsweet Solar was registered within days of the completed project in Ifakara, and they quickly established a partnership with a German company, Fosera, to provide household kits to rural districts.

Sunsweet Solar aims to not only build energy solutions for much of Tanzania, but to do so in a way that is cheaper than the current alternative of using kerosene lamps.

Mtemahanji discussed the 70% of the country that have no reliable electricity, remarking, “We can give them electricity for 25 years for only $79… It costs less than $0.30 per month; today a liter of kerosene costs $1.10. That means the people in rural areas spent 73% more with kerosene per month than with our solar system.”

Access to electricity can bring greater productivity in the workplace, and the ability to improve education. Since Sunsweet Solar installed solar power to Benignis Girls Secondary School, the school has seen exam performances increase from 18% to 83% in just 1 year. Something as simple as being able to study during the evening is a part of life that many people will have never had to consider.

In 2015, George Mtemahanji won the Anzisha Price, an award for young African entrepreneurs, and despite his success he is still only 22 years of age. With plans to roll out a loan system, so that customers can buy installations in installments, the future for both his company and Tanzania looks increasingly bright.

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World Bank program puts Zambia on path to solar energy

Comments (2) Africa, Business, Featured

solar farm zambia

The African nation will develop two solar farms that will produce more than 70 megawatts.

With an assist from the World Bank, Zambia will build two solar power projects that will provide the cheapest electricity on the continent.

First Solar Inc., the largest panel producer in the United States, along with the French company Neoen, together will build a 45-megawatt plant that will produce electricity that will sell for just over six cents per kilowatt-hour. Enel, an Italian company, will build a 28-megawatt plant that will sell power for just under eight cents per kilowatt-hour.

The two solar farms will be built near a substation that sends power to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.

The companies are the first winners of an auction program the World Bank launched to encourage wider use of renewable energy in developing countries.

Program reduces costs, risk

The Scaling Solar program, World Bank, International Finance Corp. and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency pooled resources to offer financing, insurance and advice to potential solar developers. This reduces their risk and helps cut costs to build and launch projects, in hopes of attracting large developers capable of building large-scale solar farms to the continent.

The World Bank estimates that less than a quarter of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electrical power. Some African countries, including Zambia, rely heavily on hydropower and have seen energy shortages and outages in recent droughts. Zambia expects to auction another 200 megawatts of solar within a year.

Solar energy development is an important piece of the continent’s plans to help fight global climate change, as approved at COP21 in Paris last year.

Senegal, Madagascar participate

Madagascar and Senegal are also participating in the Scaling Solar project and the World Bank expects to add a fourth African country later this year.

The goal is to encourage development of 850 megawatts of capacity in Zambia, Madagascar and Senegal, which would require an investment of about $1 billion.

The program could be adopted in Asia as well.

“It’s not designed for Africa” alone, said Jamie Fergusson, global lead for renewable energy at the IFC, told Bloomberg. “It’s designed for countries with limited independent power producing experience where the power buyer is a publicly-owned utility.”

Competitive auctions

Scaling Solar uses competitive auctions to award development rights and offers the endorsement of the World Bank. This can allay concerns of international banks about political risk. Using standard contracts, it also speeds development significantly.

More than 90% of Zambia’s generating capacity comes from hydropower.

Drought has brought record-low water levels at the Kariba Dam on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, forcing significant power cutbacks and rationing.

The reservoir has been at 12%capacity this year and dam authorities cut hydropower production to 25% of capacity in January. A year earlier, the dam, which is fed by the Zambezi River, was at more than 50% capacity.

Africa turns to renewables

With renewable energy a priority on Africa’s climate change agenda, solar developments are becoming more common on the continent.

Morocco this year turned on the first phase of what will be a 580-megawatt farm that will be the world’s largest and serve more than one million people when it is completed in 2018.

Noor 1, the first section located near Ouarzazate, currently produces 160 megawatts of power.

Morocco, which imports more than 90% of its energy, wants to generate 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, with a third of that total coming from solar, wind and hydropower each.

In South Africa, George Airport will use electricity from a 750-kilowatt solar project. Projects that will provide hundreds of megawatts are underway in the nation, where clean energy investment rose to $4.5 billion last year.

Entrepreneurs boost small efforts

Smaller efforts are also taking shape as “solarpreneurs” enter the market.

In Ghana, a local company named Volta builds small solar projects for hospitals, health clinics and schools and lets them pay over time. According to the company’s founder, Mahama Nyankmawu, a 45% reduction in energy costs puts repayment well within reach for his customers.

Another company, Off-Grid Electric, said it is installing more than 10,000 solar units a month in Rwanda and Tanzania. The company recently raised $70 million in investment to expand its operations.

As interest in solar grows on the continent, the World Bank’s Scaling Solar project should help quicken the pace of development.

Antonio Cammisecra, head of business development at Enel in Rome, said the World Bank program for Zambia “accelerated our entry by as much as a couple of years.”

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Zambia shortlists bidders to build two large-scale solar plants

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia has shortlisted bidders to build two large-scale 50 megawatt (MW) solar power generation plants as the nation battles a power deficit which threatens industrial output.

Zambia’s power shortfall has risen to 1,000 MW from 700 MW in November due to lower hydro generation as water levels have dropped because of drought.

NEON S.A.S./First Solar Inc and Enel Green Power SpA are front-runners for the two projects, Zambia’s Industrial Development Corporation said in statement.

The two bidders put their tariffs at 6.02 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and 7.84 cents per kWh, respectively, and the proposed tariffs would remain fixed for 25 years, the statement said.

“The two provisional winning tariffs are both well below those typically offered under unsolicited proposals from solar developers in Zambia or elsewhere in Africa,” it said.

The two projects would be the first large-scale solar Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in Zambia developed with support from the World Bank, which acted as the lead transaction advisor.

 

(Reporting by Chris Mfula)

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South Africa to add 100 MW solar power to national grid in 2018

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – French group Engie has signed a 20-year power purchase deal with South Africa’s state-owned utility Eskom to connect 100 megawatts (MW) of solar power onto the national grid in 2018 from its Kathu Solar plant.

Eskom, which provides virtually all of South Africa’s power, is facing a funding crunch as it races to bring new power plants online.

With year-round sunshine and thousands of miles of windswept coast in South Africa, investors are warming to the renewable energy potential, with 66 projects completed or underway since the government launched a first bid round four years ago.

Construction of the Kathu Solar Park, situated in the Northern Cape Province, is expected to begin shortly, Engie said in a statement.

Other investors include South Africa’s Investec Bank, state pension fund Public Investment Corporation, SIOC Community Development Trust and Lereko Metier.

The project is funded by a mix of debt and equity. The debt is funded from a club of South African banks, namely Rand Merchant Bank, Nedbank Capital, ABSA Capital, Investec and the Development Bank of South Africa.

Engie owns and operates two thermal power peaking plants, the 670 MW Avon plant, which is under construction, and the 335 MW Dedisa plant that is already in operation.

 

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia and Susan Thomas)

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Solar power hits the road in Uganda

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Kayoola bus

A government-backed motor company introduces the continent’s first sun-powered bus.

With its abundant sunshine and growing need for efficient public transportation, Africa seems like a natural place for solar-powered vehicles. Now that idea will be tested with the introduction in Uganda of the continent’s first solar-powered bus.

The bus, called the Kayoola, is the brainchild of Paul Isaac Musasizi, chief executive officer of the government-owned Kiira Motors Corporation of Uganda.

Uganda has “non-stop sun,” Musasizi said. “No other countries manufacturing (solar) vehicles are on the equator like Uganda. We should celebrate that and make it a business.”

Powered by solar panels on the roof

He said the 35-seat bus could travel 50 miles. It is powered by two batteries. One battery is connected to solar panels on the roof; the other is charged electrically for longer trips and night journeys. It takes only one hour to charge each battery, according to Musasizi.

Kiira has produced a prototype of the Kayoola and ran a test drive in February in Kampala.

The prototype cost $140,000 to produce but the company said the price tag would be about a third of that amount – $45,000 – with mass manufacturing.

Ambitious solar vision

The bus is one part of Musasizi’s larger vision for a solar-powered automobile industry in Uganda, including service stations that have solar pumps to charge cars instead of selling them gasoline.

He wants Uganda to follow the lead of Morocco – which recently switched on the world’s largest solar power plant – in developing solar farms to power vehicles and other everyday devices.

He noted that efficient transportation is essential to the Ugandan economy.

“Without proper transportation, we cannot have a good economy.”

The Ugandan government funds Kiira through the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology. The small company currently has 32 people on staff.

Company seeks investment to grow

Musasizi said he also hopes to attract private investors who are interested in green technology. He would like to grow the company to 200 employees in five years and produce 50 buses a year.

Uganda has been planning to develop an auto industry since 2007 after students and staff from Makerere University visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study innovation.

Kiira plans to start manufacturing automobiles in 2018.

The auto industry is part of Vision 2040, a blueprint for Uganda’s economic development launched late last year by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. Rugunda said the government would support Kiira until the company is able to put vehicles on the market.

Kiira plans to produce sedans, pickups and crossovers, starting with production of 305 automobiles in 2018 and growing to 60,000 per year in 2039.

Nigeria also boosts auto production

Nigeria is also seeking to grow its auto manufacturing, primarily to replace imported cars with locally produced vehicles. Nigeria plans to assemble 500,000 autos annually for the next five years compared to production of 10,000 vehicles in 2014.

International automakers including Nissan, Ford and Honda, as well as local manufacturers are gearing up to increase production. The government has granted licenses to 36 manufacturers.

First solar bus operates in Australia

Meanwhile, solar vehicles remain a rarity globally; Australia, China, Austria and the United States have developed solar vehicles while India is working to launch solar-powered transport.

Australia began operating the world’s first solar-powered bus in 2007.

The Tindo as the bus is named after an indigenous word for sun, operates in Adelaide. It uses 100 percent solar power that it receives from a photovoltaic system at Adelaide’s central bus station rather than from solar panels on the bus. The bus can carry up to 40 people, including 25 seated.

While Uganda is not the first country to develop solar vehicles, Musasizi hopes the country will become a leader in the field.

“Our passion for automobiles will help us develop solar motor technology,” he adds. “I’m hoping we will become known as the innovation hub for solar transportation technology in the world.”

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South Africa turns on Saudi-built solar to cut coal reliance

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa and Saudi Arabian ACWA Power launched a $328 million solar power plant in the Northern Cape province on Monday, as Africa’s most industrialised country rushes to expand its power supply and cut its coal reliance.

The Bokpoort Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) Project, developed by a consortium led by ACWA Power, is set to provide 1,300 megawatts per hour, powering more than 200,000 homes, a statement from media firm OLB said.

Construction of the plant began in 2013, following a successful bid by ACWA Power, as part of South Africa’s plan to expand the use of renewable energy.

“It is aimed at providing energy security and diversified energy. It instils confidence that major green projects are going to be built in South Africa,” said the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) deputy director general Yunus Hoosen.

Chronic energy shortages are pushing the government to seek alternative sources of electricity from state-owned power utility Eskom’s coal-powered stations that take much longer to build.

Eskom, which provides virtually all of South Africa’s power, is facing a funding crunch as it races to bring new power plants online.

With year-round sunshine and thousands of miles of windswept coast in South Africa, investors are warming to the renewable energy potential, with 66 projects completed or underway since the government launched a first bid round four years ago. [L5N0W61SY]

Bokpoort CSP plant is the first in a series of investments that ACWA Power is making in the power sector in South Africa, said the DTI.

The company expects to commence construction on the 100 MW Redstone concentrated solar power project, also in Northern Cape, later this year and is awaiting the outcome of tender submissions for a 300 MW coal-fired plant in Mpumalanga province in eastern South Africa.

 

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia and Alexander Smith)

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Morocco’s first solar power plant opened by King Mohammed VI

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Ouarzazate solar

King Mohammed VI switches on Morocco’s first solar power plant that is set to provide over a million homes with power.

The edge of the Sahara desert, just 12 miles outside of the city Ouarzazate is now home to a glittering spectacle that is set to be the world’s largest solar power plant.

After beginning construction on May 10th, 2013 the project has succeeded in completing stage one of its epic operations. Covering a spans the size of 35 football fields, the 800 rows of 500,000 crescent-shaped solar mirrors make up Noor I. This is the first of a complex of four linked solar power plants that once completed in 2018, will finally occupy a site larger than the country’s capital, Rabat, which is home to 1.4 million people.

Instead of utilizing the more familiar photovoltaic panels that are now a common sight on rooftops around the world, ‘the door of the desert’ site uses mirror technology which despite being less common and more expensive, has the advantage of continuously producing power even after the sun has gone down.

As NASA’s Kathryn Hansen explained, “The system at Ouarzazate uses 12 meter-tall (39 foot-tall) parabolic mirrors to focus energy onto a fluid-filled pipeline. The pipeline’s hot fluid is the heat source used to warm the water and make steam. The plant doesn’t stop delivering energy at night time or when clouds obscure the sun; heat from the fluid can be stored in a tank of molten salts.”

Royal inauguration

ouarzazateOn Thursday 4th February, 2016 the plant welcomed royal guest King Mohammed VI to inaugurate the countries first ever solar power plant. The ceremony was attended by the head of government, members of the government and foreign officials, including French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal who said it inspired, “great hope to all countries with a lot of sun and desert” to produce solar energy.

As the opening took place construction works commenced on the plants Noor II and Noor III sites, while for Noor IV, a call for tenders was opened. Once completed the full complex is expected to provide 1.1 million homes with power.

The king is said to be confident in the immense capacity his country has to offer renewable energies, from the Atlantic wind to the Saharan sun.

Solar superpower

It is hoped that for a country who has no claim to fossil fuel, this will be its opportunity to become self-sufficient. Additionally it plans to enter onto an international platform, providing fuel for countries worldwide. No small fry for a country that has been the biggest importer of fuel in North Africa, the venture will bring both economic and geopolitical value.

As Morocco’s Minister of the Environment Hakima el-Haite recently highlighted, “We are not an oil producing country. We import 94% of our energy, which has serious consequences for our state budget. We also have the weight of fossil fuel subsidies, so when we heard about the potential of solar power, we thought, why not?”

The country has pledged that 42% of its electricity will come from renewable energy by 2020. By 2030 they vow to have decreased their CO2 emissions by 32%, a commitment made as part of the climate conference in Paris (COP 21) that Morocco is determined to honor.

Raising the bar

As the official hosts of this year’s COP 22, Morocco is setting a precedent with the huge investment into renewable energy. However, they are by no means new to the fight against climate change. In fact since the 1960’s Morocco has shown a firm dedication to protecting the planet with a dams, agriculture and water strategy, followed more recently in 2008 by the energy strategy.

By investing in what it has, Morocco is investing in the future of its people and more far reaching, in the future of the planet. The added bonus being that by extricating itself from major financial outgoings it allows money to remain within the country and the possibility of exporting becomes very real, as more and more countries look for alternatives to fossil fuels. Could Morocco become one of the world’s biggest suppliers? Only time will tell but one thing is for certain, as Thierry Lepercq, CEO of the Paris-based Solaire Direct, acknowledged, “Solar is a true revolution,” and Morocco is at the forefront of that revolution.

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Akon Switches On: Turning Fame into Light for Africans

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Akon Solar Academy

American-Senegalese rap star Akon is putting his fame to use: providing electricity for the millions of people who need it in 15 sub-Saharan African countries.

Rappers may be famous for many things, but philanthropy is not one of them. Akon, the Senegalese-American rapper famous for dance hits like “Smack That” and “I wanna love you”, is changing that perception through his latest business endeavor. Unlike his peers, Akon’s newest business is not a clothing line or new cologne, but the creation of a solar power company. In February 2014, Akon announced that he would be changing the public face of rap by launching his company to invest in capital development for millions of sub-Saharan Africans.

Lighting the Way

In September of 2013, Akon and his friend and soon-to-be-business partner Thione Niang, were discussing how they could improve their hometown of Kaolack, Senegal. Both had been born and raised in this West African country, in a town without electricity. They decided that infrastructure was a key priority in Senegal’s development, and that electricity was a fundamental key to promoting employment, education and positive change in Senegal and other sub-Saharan African countries. In regions without access to electricity, life slows after dark, and in equatorial countries, darkness falls around 6pm, year round. Light is a fundamental aspect of human activity, and without electricity, families are forced to resort to what can be dangerous alternatives: approximately 3.5 million people die per year from respiratory illnesses related to indoor burning.

Akon and Niang joined forces with Malian entrepreneur Samba Bathily to bring an end to energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. They decided that creating a company, Solektra International, would provide a clear path to Akon and Niang’s dreams. Through Solektra International, the three co-founders created Akon Lighting Africa, a for-profit company working to create jobs and stimulate economic growth through sustainable, low-cost electricity.

Going Against the Grain: A For-Profit Company in a Non-Profit Sector

When we think of “helping Africans”, images of smiling do-gooders and the logos of non-profit agencies like the United Nations Development Programme come to mind. Not often do corporate giants like Huawei enter the conversation, but this is exactly the conversation Akon is changing. Akon is working with companies like Huawei, Solektra and Sumec to implement his projects because he “doesn’t believe in aid in Africa.” By using their expertise, Akon Lighting Africa is able to access their enormous network of partnerships to provide low-cost electricity to thousands of Africans. Their projects are provided free-of-charge to the communities they work in from a US$1billion credit line established with various international banks. According to the Akon Lighting Africa website, the average cost of lighting a village is approximately US$75,000, which includes micro-solar grids, personal solar packs for homes, street lights, lights and wiring for educational and health institutions, and the elements needed to connect each light to the grid.

Changing the Rap Game

Not satisfied with the status quo that has left billions of humans in the dark, Akon took matters into his own hands when he co-created Akon Lighting Africa. This company “aims to develop an innovative solar-powered solution” for the 600 million Africans without electricity. Akon Lighting Africa works to enable school children to study so they can pass their exams; to increase economic opportunity for small business owners; make roads safer and improve the quality of services available at existing institutions, like health centers and schools; and to ensure better access to information, all while creating jobs for the young people of Africa.

In just twelve months, Akon Lighting Africa has brought solar powered electricity to 480 villages across 15 different African nations, including 100,000 solar street lamps and 1,200 solar micro grids. Through public-private partnership, Akon’s company has installed solar powered lights into schools, community centers, health institutions, streets and private homes in rural communities. Not only has this project provided villages with electricity for the first time, but the physical construction and maintenance of these solar power grids has indirectly created jobs for a reported 5,500 young people. Unemployment, especially among the under-35 population, is endemic across sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of infrastructure, such as electricity, is just one symptom of poverty; joblessness is another. Akon’s approach is tackling both.

A Bright Future

Akon’s vision is that Solektra and Akon for Africa will be the dominant provider of renewable energy in Africa within the next decade. In 2016, Akon Lighting Africa plans to expand to 10 additional countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and Chad. Both Akon Lighting Africa and Solektra International are emerging as key players in the future of solar power for unlit African communities–Solektra International has been invited to attend the Powering Africa Summit for 2016, showing their increasing importance in the development conversation.

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