In a continent where millions of people have no access to the electricity grid or simply cannot afford to pay for electricity, small-scale energy options can have a huge impact in improving the quality of people’s lives. They also play an important role in combating climate change.
Last week the UK-based Ashden Awards gave prizes to two African energy projects that are inspiring examples of how local sustainable energy can make a difference. A Ugandan company producing briquettes from agricultural waste and a rural solar energy project in Ethiopia each were awarded £20,000 (R260,000). Another award-winner with an African connection is a joint US/Chinese cooking stove scheme that is bringing social and environmental benefits to African countries, including South Africa
ENERGY FROM AGRICULTURAL WASTE
Kampala Jellitone Suppliers (KJS), a Ugandan coffee-processing company, won an Ashden award for “avoided deforestation” for its briquettes made from the residue left after processing commercial crops, such as rice and peanut husks, coffee pulp and maize stalks.
The company sells 130 tonnes of briquettes every month, along with improved stoves that burn the briquettes more cleanly and efficiently, to schools, universities and hospitals for cooking, and to five factories for producing heat.
In climate terms, this saves 6.1 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of briquettes used, or 9,300 tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to an Ashden Awards press release.
“Using our briquettes reduces the pressure on wood resources and thus reduces deforestation, which is a serious and growing problem – particularly around Kampala [the country's capital],” said Abasi Kazibwe Musisi, managing director of KJS. “The agricultural residues used to make briquettes were previously burned as they were regarded as waste.”
SOLAR POWER FOR REMOTE VILLAGES
The Solar Energy Foundation, a non-governmental organisation established in 2006, has won the Ashden prize for rural electrification for installing more than 2,000 small solar energy systems in two remote Ethiopian villages, bringing electricity to these communites for the first time.
The 10,000-plus villagers living in Rema and Rema ena Dire, in Ethiopia’s northern highlands, five hours’ drive from Addis Ababa, previously depended on smoky kerosene lamps and candles for their lighting. They reportedly turned down the offer of free diesel generators in favour of solar power.
The villagers pay a monthly fee of about $1 to cover maintenance and repairs to keep the solar systems running. The village committee manages payments and employs nine local people as fee collectors.
“The solar programme has helped develop the community in many ways,” said Samson Tsegaye, the Ethiopian country representative of SEF.
“The local women’s association has set up a popular night school for uneducated adults to improve literacy. School children can now study in the evenings and one teacher claims her pupils’ grades have improved by 75 percent as a result. Fewer people are suffering from eye and respiratory problems associated with kerosene smoke.”
The foundation also has installed a solar-powered water pump in Rema to provide fresh drinking water, saving the villagers from having to walk for two hours to collect water.
“We now have a special financing system in place that will allow us to establish a network of Solar Centres all over Ethiopia over the coming years. Our aim is to initiate self-supporting solar businesses across Ethiopia – and to make ourselves superfluous as an NGO,” said Dr Harald Schützeichel, who established the foundation.
CLEANER COOKING STOVE
Domestic coal stoves mass produced by a joint venture between the US-based Aprovecho Research Center (ARC) and Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer (SSM) in China, were named Ashden energy champions last week. Each stove is said to prevent around 1.5 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide from being emitted and reduces toxic emissions by well over half.
About half the world still cooks with biomass or coal, using open fires or traditional stoves. The resulting emissions cause indoor air pollution, leading to serious eye and respiratory problems and kill around 1.5 million people a year, mainly children and women.
The emissions also contribute to climate change. The collection of firewood often leads to deforestation and erosion and is an additional and demanding chore for women.
Tests on the ARC/SSM stoves indicate major environmental benefits and health gains for users: reductions of up to 50% percent in fuelwood use and 70 percent carbon monoxide and particulate emissions compared to a traditional fire.
The stoves are manufactured in China by SSM and sold to distributors around the world — 60,000 stoves have been sold since 2008. They are used in countries including Argentina, Chile, India, Tanzania, Madagascar and South Africa.
Ester Konene, a South African householder who tested an ARC/SSM stove, said: “I used to use two litres of kerosene a day, costing $1.50 (R12). Now a 5kg pack of wood costing US $2.40 (R19) lasts three days. There are no emission problems. I wouldn’t want to give it back.”
For information on other 2009 Ashden Award winners click here