Cheap Solar Power to Zambia
The World Bank has enabled three companies—First Solar Inc. from the U.S., Neoen SAS from France and Enel SA from Italy—to provide the cheapest solar power on the entire African continent to Zambia.

First Solar Inc. and Neoen SAS will jointly provide electricity to Zambian homes for 6.02 cents per kilowatt-hour, while Enel SA will be selling electricity for 7.84 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Through financial services as well as insurance and advisory roles, the World Bank, International Finance Corp. and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency have created a sustainable energy movement through the Scaling Solar program. In addition, these groups are also investing in solar power for other sub-Saharan countries, such as Madagascar and Senegal.

This comes at a time in which renewable energy markets are emerging all over the world and becoming increasingly important. Investing in these companies and projects will allow electricity to expand to homes across the globe. As individuals who can afford it begin to purchase electricity, they will join the international market as new consumers of power.

Set for construction in the capital city of Lusaka, the private companies plan to complete their projects by mid-2017. They will work with local Zambian organizations, such as ZESCO, the state-run utility mogul, to ensure seamless operative standards between these international powers.

In recent years, the South African region has shown economic promise. Debt levels across the entire continent remain low and there is a set spending cap in the region. Consequently, these fiscal improvements have yielded an environment in which projects like cheap solar power can flourish.

Investing in countries stricken by poverty is an ideal way to receive a return on investment in U.S. companies, as citizens of those regions become future consumers of U.S. goods and services as they escape the cycle of poverty.

In the quest to intersect sustainability and capitalist ventures, bringing cheap solar power to Zambia—and hopefully to the rest of the continent—is a step in the right direction.

Connor Borden

Photo: Greentechlead

With the advent of solar power, wind power and water power, most people would believe that scientists have used nature and all of its wonders to its greatest capacity, but there is one key aspect we have been missing: plant power.

For many years, scientists have been searching for an alternative source of energy and have had some luck on these ventures, but researchers at Cambridge University have now been able to harness the energy generated from photosynthesis to power cell phones.

As algae blooms, it absorbs a massive amount of sunlight, thus giving it a bright green color. In order to bloom and grow successfully, algae must utilize photosynthesis, as all other plants do. By converting sunlight into energy, these plants are able to grow bigger, but this energy may be able to be utilized to charge phones and other small electric devices.

Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge University, Professor Sir David Baulcombe, stated that “algae offer considerable potential as a source of bioenergy. By studying the fundamentals of their metabolism and molecular biology and by understanding the fantastic natural variation in the different types of algae we can harness this potential for energy production.”

The Cambridge team’s discovery shows a lot of promise. This type of energy conversion is miles ahead of the photovoltaic cells most people are used to. These cells are biologically based, self-repairing, self-replicating, thoroughly biodegradable and thoroughly sustainable, creating an amazing entry into the world of truly green energy.

Recently, researchers at Cambridge have also been investigating the strength of regular plants. They have grown these plants in a vertical garden and utilizing the same concept of harnessing spare electrons from photosynthesis, have been able to power cell phones. However, these walls may take entire days to charge phones. After testing several plants, algae still remains the strongest and most productive source of energy.

At this point in time, most of the worlds’ energy comes from oil, and most of that oil comes from the Middle East. Many powerful nations, the United States being the most notorious of them all, have been intervening in Middle Eastern politics in order to ensure the safety of their precious oil supplies. For this reason, many wars have broken out, rulers have been overthrown and lives have been lost.

The invention of a source of green energy that comes directly from nature itself will drastically reduce dependence on oil as scientists are able to learn more and more about the true capability of nature. There are already solar-powered cars in the making, so maybe plant power is the next step. This would be a world out of the Lorax’s dreams, one where plants are abundant and well maintained.

By utilizing plants and their natural cycles as sources of energy, we create an even stronger dependency on them, thus causing people to plant more and more cautious in regards to nature. Of course, all of this is very far off in the future, but it will be very interesting to see how researchers decide to utilize nature and its power in the future.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: University of Cambridge, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Tanzania has some of the most talented artisans and technicians, but we use very old, outdated equipment, mostly from Italy, from the 1960s and ‘70s,” said Dotto Said, the supervisor at Yasir Ahmed a shop that makes windows, doors and gates.

Yet using outdated tools or “sawdust piled ankle deep” are not the biggest problems facing Tanzanians and Africans as a whole. Electricity has been identified, by many Africans, as the single biggest inhibitor of its success. Alex Adrian, a carpenter at Yasir Ahmed said. “All we need Obama [sic] to help us with is a reliable supply of electricity.”

While the President has made several trips to Africa, once to pledge 7 billion dollars to the energy relief fund, Tanzanians like Said and Adrian would like to be able to turn to themselves for help. Relief of this kind has come in the form of Helvetic Solar, a Tanzanian-based company whose goal is to supply solar panels to all those looking for electricity across Africa.

“The electrification issue was a major one and I just figured out that Tanzanians might be receptive to an alternative energy source,” said owner of Helvetic Solar, Patrick Ngowi. He discovered a love of solar power on one of his many trips to China. At this time, only 10 percent of Tanzania was on a power grid. Most companies, wealthy families and government agencies relied on generators.

In the beginning the idea struggled, but in 2007 the word spread of the benefits and Ngowi was contacted by several government, non-government agencies, and multi-national corporations to install solar panels. His company grossed 6.8 million dollars in 2012.

For a country whose GDP is low and poverty so high, is it even economically feasible for this country to convert to solar power? Forbes broke the numbers down and found it was economically more sound to install solar panels in Tanzania than Oregon. The average homeowner in Oregon will take anywhere from 15-27 years to recoup the initial investment solar panels require. This is due to a very large electrical grid already providing relatively cheap power.

When you take the same principles, apply them to Tanzania and compare the cost of fuel to run a generator in rural Tanzania to the initial cost of solar power, one find that Tanzanians can recoup their losses well enough to sell their generators.

Giant leaps in innovation like this have helped several in rural Tanzania. Lusela Murandika, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in Kanyala village in northern Tanzania, installed his solar panels for a little over 400 dollars. Murandika said that the hardest part was installation. He now runs a small side business, earning 12 cents for every cell phone he charges. Edward Buta, a solar power shop dealer, said business is booming in the Tanzanian town of Katoro. Electricity is slowly inching across Africa, but until the grid makes it into the outskirts solar power will continue to be king.

Frederick Wood II

Sources: Mother Jones, NY Times, Forbes 1, Forbes 2
Photo: Face2Face Africa


Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID,) the United States government has joined the self-declared Somaliland Administration in presenting a wind energy facility project to power the Hargeisa Egal International Airport.

Officiated by Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, a ceremony was held on June 2 at the Hargeisa Egal International Airport. Other attendees included USAID’s Acting Somalia Office Director Hodan Hassan, various representatives from the private sector and civil society and the Ministers of Civil Aviation, Environment, Information, Interior, Planning and Water.

The Somaliland Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has been charged with the responsibility of controlling and overseeing the new wind energy facility project, which will also be managed by the government via a public-private partnership.

The facility is set up to serve as an alternative to expensive diesel fuel by powering some of the surrounding communities as well as the airport. Golis Energy, a local engineering company supported by USAID, has been credited for constructing the major wind farm.

At over $1.25 per kilowatt, the cost of electricity in Somaliland is one of the highest rates in the world. The high energy rates in Somaliland are a result of a disorganized network of independent providers that use different grids and unreliable equipment.

The state loses nearly 40 percent of its electricity due to various technical problems that arise from the dilapidated equipment. Minister of Energy Hussein Abdi Dualeh has stated that theft and illegal connections further cause power providers to barely break even. “We need a legal framework to govern the sector — we need an electricity law.”

Dualeh believes that renewable energy needed to be considered because Somaliland has more than 340 days of sun and “some of the fastest wind in the world.” Since 2011, USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth program has been working with officials and the private sector in Somaliland to bring renewable energy to the area.

Additionally, Somaliland officials and USAID have ensured a competitive market for the new energy services and drafted a series of necessary laws and regulations to “regulate and standardize the sector.”

Since 2010, USAID has invested almost $50 million in Somaliland for a number of sectors, including community stabilization, governance, education, health and economic growth. An additional $14 million was allocated to fund USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth program, which has financed efforts to develop renewable energy in Somaliland, invested in the livestock and agriculture sectors, and promoted economic stability through private sector development.

The issues with Somaliland’s energy sector have had an enormous impact on private business and investment climate. A 2011 assessment carried out by USAID’s Partnership for Economic Growth showed that most business owners cited electricity rates and services as a “constraint to growth.”

For small-scale and local industries especially, the high overhead costs equate to difficulties in competing with imports, resulting in fewer products being produced in Somaliland. Citing Somaliland’s “inefficient, unreliable and prohibitively expensive power supply,” Chief of Party Suleiman Mohamed asked, “how can you expect businesses that require a reliable electricity supply to succeed?”

 — Kristy Liao

Sources: DAI, The Guardian, Somalicurrent
Photo: Construction Week Online


Australian actor and filmmaker Hugh Jackman is producing a documentary about converting livestock manure into clean methane to be used for cooking and lighting in Ethiopia.

84% of Ethiopians burn wood for lighting and cooking, which has resulted in massive deforestation across vast swaths of the country. But because coffee requires shade, coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia are lushly forested. And because trees are needed to provide shade for a valuable crop, local farmers have developed a special kind of technology to convert livestock manure into a cleaner source of energy.

During a 2009 visit to the coffee-producing Kochere district of Ethiopia, Jackman was inspired by the work of a 27-year-old coffee farmer named Dukale, whose innovative technology holds the potential to make tangible improvements to the environment, local economy, and lives of Ethiopians.

Besides providing a cleaner source of energy and offering a solution to the respiratory problems of children who have grown up in smoke-filled huts, Dukale is able to devote more land to coffee farming by not using wood for fuel. This enables him to grow more coffee, use the proceeds to buy more land, hire more workers, and he can afford to send his kids to school instead of to labor in the fields.

Impressed by Dukale’s efforts, Jackman has sought to find distribution for their coffee, forming Laughing Man Worldwide (LMW), which operates coffeehouses in Lower Manhattan and devotes all proceeds to education, community, and new business development.

Laughing Man Coffee Shops have opened to rave reviews at various locations in Lower Manhattan and feature an array of products made with crops from Ethiopia, Peru, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Since his initial visit to Ethiopia in 2009, Jackman and a small group of filmmakers have been documenting their work. A final film is planned for distribution later in 2013.

– Michael DeZubiria

Sources: PandoDaily, Uncommon Union, Mother Nature Network, Yahoo! Lifestyle