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The Green Girl hurdling barriers in the race for sustainability

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Many observers see that out of the many challenges facing modern Africa, two in particular stand out. The first of these is the continent’s massive untapped renewable energy resources. The African Development Bank estimates that there is an annual potential of 350 GW in hydroelectric power, 110 GW from wind, 15 GW from geothermal and a huge 1000 GW from solar. In addition, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that surplus forest wood could provide 520 GW/year in bioenergy.

The second and perhaps more daunting challenge is breaking down the gender disparity barriers that have been entrenched since colonial days. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index estimated that it would take 135 years (at current rates of progress) for the gap to finally close in sub-Saharan Africa, with North Africa taking even longer at 153 years.

Anything that attempts to meet these challenges should be applauded and promoted, and when a person or project attempts to tackle both of them at the same time, then there should be even higher levels of recognition and encouragement.

Monique Ntumngia Determined To Give Something to Those Who Lacked Opportunities

Enter Monique Ntumngia, founder of Cameroon’s ‘Green Girls’ and a renewable energy entrepreneur. The 29-year-old Cameroonian had a hard childhood as an orphan. And as she entered adulthood, she was determined to give something to those who lacked opportunities.

The idea for Green Girls was born in September of 2014 when Ntumngia was working in Nigeria for the NGO, Human Rights and Education. While taking part in the traditional distribution of school supplies at the start of the school year, children kept asking her: “Madam, how are we going to use these notebooks and books without light?”

It was at that point that Ntumngia decided that her path forward lay in marrying sustainable development with the promotion and spread of renewable energies. She began organising fundraising events and contacting organisations such as UNICEF and the EU. After raising US$10,000 in just two months, she bought 2,500 solar lamps from Norway that she distributed across Nigeria.

Only 10% of The Population Have Regular Access to Electricity.

After Nigeria, she wanted to do the same in Cameroon. Her home country – and Africa as a whole – suffers from a real problem as far as electricity production and distribution are concerned. Most rural areas have no supplies all. Across Africa as a whole, only 10% of the population have regular access to electricity.

Monique Ntumngia: Leading the way in promoting renewable energy and sustainability in Africa

But this young social entrepreneur quickly realised that solar lamps were not a long-term answer. She carried out an in-depth survey looking at the sustainability of local economies across Cameroon. She also realised that many of these local communities had an acute waste management problem. Biogas seemed to be an obvious answer to work alongside solar energy. Biogas is a renewable energy source made from the anaerobic fermentation of organic waste. She set up a company – Monafrik Energy – to develop solar and biogas solutions, to provide affordable energy, and to help support sustainable communities. Since December of 2015, the company has built eight solar installations and twenty bio-digesters for biogas production.

But Monique’s vision extended far beyond simple provision of electricity. She wanted to tackle gender disparity and the poverty that both causes and accompanies it. In August of 2016, she founded the charity, Green Girls. Its mission? To promote sustainable development in every African rural community through the infiltration of renewable energy; and getting African governments to develop gender policies that provide access to finance in order for these women to run clean energy businesses.

To Plant Trees To Replace the Forests Used As Sources of Firewood

The charity also plants trees to replace the forests used as sources of firewood before the communities had bio digesters constructed. Within just a few months of starting the charity, 623 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 had received training in three areas of Cameroon.

The charity now operates programmes on several levels. They train girls in how to construct and maintain solar panels and bio digesting equipment. They also teach them about the relevant Sustainable Development Goals so they understand better the sustainable community models. In order to encourage financial independence, they train the women in how to set up SMEs, with businesses aimed at the packaging and selling of organic fertilizer, growing organic crops, and making solar lanterns.

In order to expand the ideas and the training, one aspect of the Green Girl programmes is identifying future leaders and training them to be trainers. This offers the potential of rapid multiplication of women and girls taking part in the various programmes as well as an expansion of ideas and practical solutions.

To Expand the Green Girls Operations across All of Africa

Her hard work and innovative ideas have led to global recognition. To date, she has been awarded the following prizes: WWF Africa Youth Champion award (twice), US$100,000 Visa Everywhere Initiative Award 2019, the Africa Youth Connekt prize for Best Project and best Pitch, and the Cameroon special tourism award for promoting sustainable development

Ntumngia’s vision is to expand the Green Girls operations across all of Africa but she knows that there are many hurdles to cross and that both governments and African society need to be part of the battle to break down gender barriers as well as working towards a more sustainable Africa.

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Renewable Africa: The future is clean

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Renewable Energy

Why groups like Access Power are vital to unlocking Africa’s vast clean energy potential.

The developed world has spent over a century thoroughly addicted to fossil fuels and such entrenched habits are proving hard to kick. On the other hand, Africa is bubbling with the promise of a renewable energy explosion.

Access Power, an organization which owns and operates renewable energy projects in developing nations, is leading the charge. Earlier this month, Access announced the winners of its $7 million competition: Access Co-Development Facility 2016 (ACF). Designed to kick-start promising African renewable energy projects, the competition was hotly contested.

Fierce competition

Reda El Chaar, Executive Chairman of Access Power, highlighted the scope of the African renewable revolution: “This year’s ACF competition introduced us to almost 100 projects, demonstrating the scale of entrepreneurialism and ambition across the African continent to meet the electrification challenge.”

Three companies were recognized as winners after a grueling three stage process: AGES, a solar project from Sierra Leone, Mentach Energy, a wind power development from Nigeria, and Stucky Ltd, a combined Hydro & Solar project from Madagascar. Together these schemes are expected to deliver over 100 megawatts to countless homes in their respective countries.

The revolution is coming; this year the ACF competition received a 75% increase in applications from budding renewable start-ups. What’s more, applications poured in from across the continent with a 40% increase in the number of nations involved in the competition. Africa is beginning to realize that it has massive clean-energy potential.

Energy Africa

The scope of this potential cannot be understated. Looking to the future, Africa has everything required to become the clean energy dynamo for the planet, in a new world where renewable energy is predominantly used.

African Energy Windtower

African Energy Windtower

The continent possesses huge stretches of land where solar power could generate enormous returns, particularly in the Sahara where the sun shines relentlessly. Some studies have suggested that a solar facility covering 0.3% of the Sahara could generate enough electricity for the whole of continental Europe. Particularly in West Africa, where strong winds sweep costal and elevated regions, wind farms could be utilized to harvest significant amounts of clean energy. Hydroelectric power can also be used to far greater effect as the continent is rich in powerful rivers and vast lakes. According to the UN’s Environment Programme, East Africa’s Great Rift Valley region could produce over 4,000 MW of geothermal energy. What’s more, Africa has a huge coastline waiting to be exploited by tidal power projects.

The path ahead

Africa is truly an untapped gold mine when it comes to renewable energy, which is why organizations like Access Power are so important in driving forward the expansion of renewable energy usage. The region is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to energy availability. Over 70% of sub-Saharan Africa is without access to reliable power, with many rural areas almost entirely off the grid. The problem is compounded by population growth as Africa’s population is set to increase by 1.3 billion between now and 2050.

Renewable energy is the obvious answer. Renewables like wind and solar can provide rural populations with accessible, closed-loop power, while large scale projects have greater long term promise than fossil fuels for improving net availability. As Africa rushes to improve its energy infrastructure, it needs to embrace clean power, not dirty.

Currently, renewable energy accounts for only 7% of Africa’s current energy production. As the region becomes more energy hungry, a continuation of this trend would be a hammer blow to climate change goals, and a huge missed opportunity given the continent’s potential. However, Africa is also home to abundant traditional energy options such as coal and gas. For developing nations, the temptation to lean on such resources is strong, especially as they remain the easier option in the absence of foreign investment.

The Africa EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) has a crucial role to play at this juncture. Dr. Michael J. Saulo, of the Technical University of Mombasa explained, “Africa needs Europe and Europe needs Africa. Europe has the know-how and the private investment, Africa has a vast potential for renewables. All factors converge together.”

Increased Euro-African cooperation is removing many historical deterrents to investment, such as political uncertainty and cumbersome government regulation. Another obstacle, the perception of poor returns on investments, has also melted away now that the start-up costs for wind and solar projects have plummeted to very attractive levels.

For the future of renewables in Africa, the signs are promising. However it is not just Africa that stands to gain. The continent is about to become a pivotal battleground in the fight against climate change. More foreign investors like Access Power are sorely needed if Africa is to realize its clean energy potential.

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The African body SABER looks to revolutionize energy in Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Since 2009, SABER has been working to change the nature of energy within Africa.

Energy is at the very core of how economies and societies develop, and yet the sources of energy have become huge issues in recent years. Every developed nation in the world fueled its economic growth off the back of fossil fuels, but as finite resources dwindle, nations are looking for more sustainable means of energy.

In developing regions of the world this is an issue that relates to more than just growth, but also to the well-being of its citizens. The pollution caused by traditional fuels often affects the poorest people the most, and as urban centers become the financial heart of emerging markets, the need for greener energy has become increasingly stark.

The African group SABER is a prime example of people taking the initiative to change the face of energy within their markets.

What is SABER?

The African Society of BioFuels and Renewable Energies (ABREC/SABER) was established in 2009, to work towards creating cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy in Africa. The body is a public-private partnership (PPP) which is funded by 15 African nations in conjunction with various private enterprises.

SABER CEO Thierno Bocar oversees the organization’s work from its central office in the Togolese capital, Lomé.

Saber CEO Thierno Bocar

Saber CEO Thierno Bocar

SABER’s mission statement outlines how significant sustainable forms of energy will be for the emerging markets of Africa, saying, “Transitioning to clean energy is all the more demanding because energy needs are foreseen to expand considerably in Africa over the coming decades with new investment of about two thirds of existing capacity needed to keep pace with Africa’s growth.”

Although the organization is only 7 years old, it has already established a number of strong collaborative partnerships, and has turned ideas into realities. SABER was self-funded by 2012, which meant it had met its goal of being an independent advisory body to the public. In 2013, the group signed an agreement with the Committee on Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA), in which additional funding was allocated to move forward with several SABER projects.

Ideas turned into actions

The most notable of these projects has been the construction of solar powered street lighting across 3 African nations. Togo and Sierra Leone have both had 13,000 solar powered street lamps built, while a further 15,000 have been constructed in Benin. These developments alone are worth around $175 million of investment.

Solar energy features prominently in SABER proposals, alongside hydro-electricity and geothermal energy. These forms of energy are not only clean, but access the continent’s own resources intelligently.

CEO Thierno Bocar stated that within West Africa there were currently three areas that “have been selected: solar street lighting, rural electrification using solar kits or small-scale plants and the installation.”

However, SABER’s work is already expanding as it aims to address renewable energy needs across the continent.

Courtesy of SABER projects, there are currently solar power plants in 8 African nations, geothermal power stations in Kenya and Ethiopia, and a hydro-electric power plant in Uganda.

Continued growth

SABER has established relationships with The African Development Bank and USAID, but 2016 has seen further developments in their cooperative efforts. SABER recently announced a partnership with Oragroup that will provide further revenue for the growing number of energy projects across Africa. Oragroup wants to be known as the leading bank in Africa for fighting climate change, and Mr. Bocar described the $233 million platform as enabling “project arrangement with high added value.”

SABER’s continued growth constitutes more than its own ventures, as Bocar wants to foster environments in which local people drive change and grassroots initiatives can flourish. The plans to help build such a foundation are already in place, as SABER offers expert advice to governments, and is also striving to fund the Seeded Green African Development Fund. This structure will enable private equity to fund small-scale projects across the continent, with an initial goal of a $150 million fund over the next 10 years.

Of course, if SABER’s successes catch the imagination of others, and governments make the most of the support the organization offers, then organic growth within sustainable energy projects could well eclipse such targets. If it does then it will benefit not only Africa, but the world.

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

Comments (1) Business, Featured, Middle East

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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New African Development Bank leader puts energy at the forefront

Comments (1) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Akinwumi Adesina

The new head of the African Development Bank says his top priority is to develop the continent’s energy infrastructure to spur economic growth.

Akinwumi Adesina, known for his reforms and anti-corruption efforts as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria, became president of the bank on September 1, 2015. The bank is one of Africa’s largest lending institutions and finances projects to improve electricity, water and transportation.

“My top priority will be to focus the Bank to deliver on “power-for-all” – a universal access to electricity for Africa. Nothing is more important to Africa than access to power,” Adesina said in his vision statement for his candidacy for president.

Lack of energy slows development

Adesina said lack of energy is the greatest obstacle to the development of the continent.

“The development of the energy infrastructure for Africa will drive more rapid economic and social development of the continent, by reducing the cost of doing business, powering industrial growth, unlocking entrepreneurship of millions of small and medium size enterprises, improving educational and health systems and deepening financial services, driving agro processing to create jobs,” he said.

He noted that Africa’s total energy capacity is only 147 GW – similar to that of Belgium. He wants to expand that to 700 GW by 2040 with development of renewable resources.

“Africa has 50% of the world’s renewable energy (wind, hydropower and solar) but they remain largely untapped,” he said.

Plans to fund large and small projects

He proposes a mix of large, regional projects and smaller local ones that can be developed quickly.

“The Bank cannot afford to put all its focus on large regional power projects alone, as they are very complex, have high capital exposure and risk profiles, will take time to achieve, even though they are critical,” he said.

“Under my leadership, the Bank will pursue a twin track approach: build success in the short term, deliver successful investments in power and then scale up based on success. To show quick successes, build momentum on execution and delivery for countries, the Bank will also focus on providing support for the piloting of decentralized integrated power systems within countries.”

Corruption is an obstacle

Another obstacle, he said, is corruption.

“The cost of corruption is massive; it turns the whole continent into darkness,” he said, estimating that corruption costs Africa $148 billion a year.

Africa looks to reduce carbon emissions

Adesina was a prominent voice for a unified African agenda at the recent Climate Conference in Paris and that agenda also stressed development of renewable energy sources in order to reduce greenhouse emissions.

At the time, he said Africa needs an international investment of $55 billion a year through 2030 to create an efficient energy sector that uses more renewable resources. He said the bank would contribute $5 billion in financing, 40 percent of its total investments.

Increased investment in private sector

In addition to pledging to make investments in the energy infrastructure, Adesina said the bank would increase its investments in the private sector.

He said private sector lending by the bank was $2.1 billion in 2013.

“Given that the private sector accounts for 70% of all investments in Africa, 70% of all output and 90% of all employment, there is need for the Bank to be more expansive in its private sector operations,” he said.

Adesina also said the bank will embrace an “activist” posture in support of infrastructure developments.

“The Bank will increasingly take on a transactional approach by helping countries and the private sector to resolve legal and regulatory environments that will unlock bottlenecks to project development and execution. The role of the Bank will be more of an “activist financier” that will be more engaged in driving the execution of infrastructure projects, not just ideas and master plans,” he said.

Known for agricultural reform in Nigeria

Adesina is a respected economist and agricultural expert.

Before joining the bank, he had been Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria since 2011. He was known for implementing bold reforms in the country’s agricultural sector, including anti-corruption efforts and infrastructure improvements. Agriculture had been long neglected as the West African country’s reliance on oil revenues grew.

During his tenure, domestic food production increased by 22 million tons while food imports decreased significantly.

In 2013, Adesina won the Forbes Africa Person of the Year award for his reforms in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. In 2014, he was selected as Anti-corruption Man of the Year and Most Transparent and Accountable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Foundation for Transparency and Accountability.

He holds a master’s degree and a PhD in agricultural economics from Purdue University.

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