Africa's Energy (14)

PRETORIA, South Africa, March 23, 2017/ -- Today, activists of the BREAKFREE coalition have taken part in a funeral procession outside the Department of Energy (DoE) in Pretoria to highlight the impacts that coal-fired power stations are having on South African communities. The solemn procession depicted tombstones to which activists were chained with the message “The IRP is our chance to Break Free from fossil fuels” making a call to the South African public to stand up against dangerous and polluting energy options and engage in the electricity planning processes undertaken by the DoE.

“Civil society organisations under the Break Free [1] banner reject the IRP current plans as nothing more than renewed attempts by the Department of Energy and Eskom to promote vested interests in nuclear and coal. The long awaited IRP 2016 is a rigged model that forces nuclear energy and coal into the mix, even though it is clearly not cost competitive. The base case proposes a ridiculous scenario for 20 GW of nuclear and 15 GW of new coal by 2050,” stated NhlanhlaSibisi – Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Africa (www.Greenpeace.org/Africa/en).

The purpose of the Integrated Resource Plan, in the DoE’s own words, is to identify investments in the electricity sector that allow the country to meet forecasted demand with the minimum cost to the country. As such coal and nuclear have no place in the IRP base case as renewable energy is by far the cheapest technology and should form the backbone of South Africa’s energy mix going forward.

“What government and the majority of South Africans don’t see are the real costs associated with living with coal on a daily basis [1]. We need to break from coal dependency that has resulted in SA communities living with some of the worst air quality in the world. Children are ill, water resources are polluted, agricultural land is sterilized, all at a time when there are better solutions available through renewable energy,” stated Makoma Lekalakala – Senior Programmes Officer, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg.

Droughts, sporadic rainfall and erratic weather patterns are all indicators that governments should take immediate action to safeguard a future that will sustain future generations.

“The impact of climate change is already felt in South Africa, and it affects the most vulnerable among us. We must reduce our dependency on fossil fuels drastically, starting today. Breaking Free from fossil fuels is possible; it will benefit all South Africans and guarantee a bright future for our children. Renewable energy can supply the bulk of the energy our country needs without further damaging our environment. This shift can be done now and must guide us as we plan our energy future” added Gillian Hamilton, Branch Manager of the African Climate Reality Project.

“The government's case for more coal and nuclear is baseless, ill-considered and destructive. Cost comparisons between coal and nuclear in relation to renewable energy technologies in the Draft IRP 2016 are misleading. The DoE’s lack of political commitment towards renewable energy blocks the country climate action pathway. The urgency could not be more heightened. We are breaking free from rogue industries knowingly perpetuating climate change crisis. The latest math proves that to prevent catastrophic warming, there can be absolutely no expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. That means no new coal mines, no new drilling, no to nuclear,” continued Ahmed Mokgopo, 350Africa Divestment Campaigner.

Break Free is a global movement making a statement to say enough is enough and lending voices to speak for future generations.

[1] Break Free is a global wave of people, communities, local and international organisations taking a firm stance against fossil fuels and calling for an end to dirty energy.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017 00:00

Historic Solar Field in Burundi

Written by

2,500 celebrate historic groundbreaking in one of Africa's neediest countries for a $14m solar field to advance economic and social development

Amid the lush and rolling hills of Mubuga, 100 km outside the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, 2,500 people came yesterday to celebrate the festive ground-breaking for a 7.5 MW solar field that will add 15% to the East African country's generation capacity. In a colorful and drum-accented ceremony attended by government officials, international investors, religious leaders and the diplomatic community, Gigawatt Global (http://GigawattGlobal.com), the leading frontier solar and social development enterprise, announced the $14 million pioneering project in one of the world's least developed nation. 

"Empowering economic and social development is at the heart of our green energy business," said Michael Fichtenberg, VP for Finance and Business Development of Gigawatt Global. "This high impact development investment supported by leading international financial institutions signals that Burundi is open for development and business." 

This will be the largest private international investment in the power sector in Burundi in nearly 30 years, with the power being sold for 25 years to REGIDESO, the national electric company. "We are very excited at the groundbreaking of the Gigawatt Burundi solar field," said His Excellency Come Manirakiza, Burundi's Minister of Energy and Mines. "After their success in Rwanda, Gigawatt Global has proven it can be relied on to deliver efficient, clean renewable energy at reasonable cost, contributing greatly to our economy and society. We look forward to the speedy completion of this project, and are thankful for the collaboration and cooperation with Gigawatt Global as energy in Burundi is a clear priority." 

Gigawatt Global, an American-owned Dutch developer, is a founding member of the White House Power Africa initiative and financed and developed the first commercial scale solar field in continental sub-Sahara Africa (outside of South Africa) in neighboring Rwanda in 2014. 

The project has been supported by a grant from the Energy and Environment Partnership (a Finland, UK, Austrian fund) and the Belgian Investment Company for Developing countries (BIO) to cover the relevant studies. The project is also supported by African-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP) and the Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP), currently engaging in project due diligence. 

"This project is a great example of Burundians, Americans and other international partners working together for the economic development of Burundi," said Anne Casper, U.S. Ambassador to Burundi. "The success of this project will be a positive signal to other potential investors, who are watching Gigawatt Global and the Government of Burundi to see if investing in Burundi is stable, predictable and easy to do. We are working together very hard and very closely -- the U.S., Burundi, the Netherlands, and Gigawatt Global -- to make this project a success -- to enable the whole country to get energy and this will lead to the country's economic development." 

U.S. Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz underlined the importance of Gigawatt Global's work by saying, "As a founding Power Africa partner, Gigawatt Global continues to demonstrate its industry leadership with this investment in Burundi." 

HE Hendrikes Verwein, the Dutch Ambassador to Burundi, said, "The Kingdom of the Netherlands supports Gigawatt Global and commits to assist the company in the pursuit of its investments. The Kingdom of the Netherlands expresses its wish that the contractual commitments included in the agreement protocols for the construction of the solar plant in Mubuga be rapidly implemented." 

"Gigawatt Global is expecting to deploy $2 billion in renewable energy projects in Africa as partners of the White House Power Africa initiative in the coming years as renewables are taking the lead in power generation in Africa and emerging markets," said CEO Josef Abramowitz. "We are targeting sub-Sahara Africa as a high impact and high growth market, with a portfolio of small, medium and large power projects in the highest priority development areas." 

The construction and interconnection of the project to the national grid is expected to be concluded in Q4 of 2017.

In addition to this new 40 MW plant in Mozambique, the company operates 200 MW of solar power plants in South Africa and Rwanda and has new projects under development across Africa, including Mali, Nigeria and Kenya
OSLO, Norway, November 1, 2016/ -- Scatec Solar (ScatecSolar.com) and Norfund (www.Norfund.no) have signed the Power Purchase Agreement securing  the sale of solar power over a 25 year period to the state owned utility Electricidade de Mozambique (EDM).

The agreement was signed at a ceremony in Maputo yesterday in the presence of the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Børge Brende, the Mozambican Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Mrs Letícia Klemens as well as Dr Mateus Magala, Chairman & CEO of EDM. The project is the first large scale solar plant to be built in the country and represents an important first step in realizing Mozambique’s ambition to increase renewable power generation in its energy mix.

The 40 MW plant is located close to the city of Mocuba in the Zambézia Province, and is expected to deliver 77,000 MWh per year of much needed electricity to the northern regions of Mozambique. The plant will deliver power to the national grid and produce enough energy to serve about 175 000 households.

A shareholder agreement was also signed between KLP Norfund Investments AS, Scatec Solar and EDM. The required project investment is estimated at USD 80 million. Scatec Solar (52.5%), KLP Norfund Investments (22.5%) and EDM (25%) will provide equity, while IFC, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund intend to provide project finance debt. The parties are targeting financial close and solar plant construction start in the first quarter of 2017. 

“This is an excellent example of how private public partnerships can deliver renewable energy and support further economic growth in Mozambique. EDM and the government of Mozambique have demonstrated strong leadership in taking this project forward and it paves the way for further investments in renewable energy in the country,” says Scatec Solar CEO, Raymond Carlsen.

“Access to reliable energy is a prerequisite for development. Only 3% of the world’s electricity is generated in Africa, although 15% of the world’s population lives here. Clean energy is a focus investment area for Norfund, and we appreciate being a partner in this first independent solar power producer project in Mozambique together with EDM and Scatec Solar, says Norfund CEO, Kjell Roland.”

The project is a result of strong partnership between the governments of Norway and Mozambique. The Norwegian government has provided economic support as well as technical expertise to the energy sector in Mozambique for several years.

Scatec Solar is a leading developer and owner of large scale solar plants in Africa. In addition to this new 40 MW plant in Mozambique, the company operates 200 MW of solar power plants in South Africa and Rwanda and has new projects under development across Africa, including Mali, Nigeria and Kenya.

The ‘Renewable Energy Champions’ campaign was first launched by Greenpeace in April this year with the report ‘Shopping Clean: Retailers and Renewable Energy’
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, October 27, 2016/ -- In order to fully benefit from the potential of abundant renewable energy in South Africa, companies need to step out of their comfort zones and send clear signals to the markets by committing to an ambitious 100% renewable energy future. This is the resounding message in an updated report ‘Shopping clean: Retailers and renewable energy – An Update’ [1] released today by Greenpeace Africa (Greenpeace.org/Africa/en) which gives an up to date outline of the state of renewable energy investments and commitments by South Africa’s top five retailers (Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Woolworths, Spar and Massmart). 

The ‘Renewable Energy Champions’ campaign was first launched by Greenpeace in April this year with the report ‘Shopping Clean: Retailers and Renewable Energy’ [2], and in the report update, Greenpeace takes a look at how the retailers have improved in the intervening six months. 

“When comparing the retailers to one another, Woolworths is still in the lead with an improved score of six out of ten. Massmart is close behind Woolworths with a score of five and a half, a significant improvement from their April score. Pick n Pay has also shown a significant improvement and is now engaging with Greenpeace on how they can increase their commitments to renewable energy in the future. Spar and Shoprite are at the bottom of the table with Shoprite scoring the lowest of all five retailers” said Penny-Jane Cooke, Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

During 2016 both Woolworths and Massmart undertook solar PV installations; with Woolworths installing the first phase of their 2MW system at their Midrand distribution center, and Massmart installing a 520kW and a 430kW system at their Carnival Mall and Woodmead Makro stores respectively. This combined solar PV capacity is sufficient to power 500 - 700 average South African households. 

“One of the most significant actions undertaken by Massmart, Woolworths and Pick n Pay this year was their commitment to lobby to remove the barriers to renewable energy. The retailers have agreed to the need for a holistic sector approach that includes financial mechanisms and regulatory frameworks to create an enabling framework for renewable energy going forward, and have agreed to focus on lobbying for this, meanwhile Woolworths alone has taken the important step of committing to a 100% renewable energy future” continued Cooke. 

At the bottom end of the updated ranking table both Spar and Shoprite are dragging behind their fellow retailers. Spar’s score has stayed the same as they have not made any progress in the renewable energy sector in 2016. Shoprite continues to have the lowest score of three out of ten due to a lack of publicly available information, lack of transparency and unwillingness to engage with Greenpeace on these issues

 “Shoprite’s sustained low score is a clear indication that the retailer is not yet taking renewable energy seriously, neither are they engaging with the Renewable Energy Champions campaign. Greenpeace believes that Shoprite in particular can do much more to show solar some love, and we call on all five of the country’s top retailers to convert their scores from average to ambitious” added Cooke.

During the course of 2016, Eskom has begun what appears to be a sustained anti renewable energy campaign, which means there is an increased need for other sectors, including the retail sector, to champion and lobby for a renewable energy future in South Africa. Renewable energy offers a concrete alternative to the current electricity system that is failing all South Africans.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 00:00

Uganda Court clears Bidco of deforestation

Written by
Judge dismisses ‘unnecessary’ law suit by environmental activists

KAMPALA, Uganda, September 27, 2016/ -- The High Court of Uganda has cleared Bidco (http://www.BidcoAfrica.com) against claims of deforestation in the Vegetable Oil Development Program in Kalangala district.

The public interest case filed by three environmental groups alleged that Bidco coerced the Government through the National Forestry Authority to de-gazette forest reserves on Bugala Island for the growing of oil palm. 

The court rejected this claim.

“The defendants have never asked the Government of Uganda to de-gazette any forest reserve as claimed in the plaint, no forest reserve has been de-gazetted as a result. The land was provided on Lease to Bidco by the government for the project was not a de-gazetted forest, therefore, the issue of de-gazzetation should not have arisen,” Judge J. W Kwesiga said in his ruling.

The court also rejected the claim of deforestation.

“None of the defendants (Bidco) have entered or cleared any forest reserve and claims to the contrary are false,” the judgment continues.

In the ruling the court said it could not find any evidence that the company’s activities violated the right to a clean healthy environment.

“The plaintiff should have further produced evidence to establish that growing of palm trees would be harmful to clean and healthy environment rather than being accredit to a clean and healthy environment by growth of palm trees.”

The court said the lawsuit was unnecessary and the environmental groups could have acquired the truth by simply contacting the company.

Martin Lugambwa Chairman of the Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Association welcomed the ruling.

“This is great news. Let them leave us to enjoy the fruits of Oil Palm with our families. Our lives have changed, our children are going to good schools and we are happy. Let them leave us alone.”

Nelson Basalidde the General Manager of the Palm Growers Trust echoed the sentiment.

“The court has validated what we have always said and known. The forest reserves on the island are intact. There have been four separate environmental impact assessments. I think we need to focus on the remarkable transformation that is happening in the lives of small holder farmers and the economic impact on the Island.

Bidco Uganda Managing Director Kodey Rao who testified during the trial also lauded the ruling. 

“This project has gone out of its way to maintain the environment and transform the community. The small holder farmers are happy and the community is happy. Kalangala has become a beacon for progress. We thank the court for making the truth known.”

About Bidco

Bidco Africa Ltd (http://www.BidcoAfrica.com) is Kenya and East Africa’s leading manufacturer of edible oils, fats and hygiene care products. Established in 1985 the company has manufacturing units in Kenya, Tanzania and Madagascar and a footprint in 16 African countries.

Bidco Uganda is a separate legal entity with different shareholding and management.

About the Palm Oil Project

The Vegetable Oil Development Project benefits 1800 farmers in Kalangala district, Bugala Uganda and is a partnership of Bidco Uganda, the Government of Uganda and the International Fund for Agriculture IFAD.

The farmers get loans over a period of four years to plant and nurture oil palm until they begin harvesting. When they do they are guaranteed a market for their fruits at a pre-determined price formulated by the World Bank. Oil Palm fruits for 20 plus years. 

SOURCE: Bidco Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 28, 2016/ -- More than one million trips have been made using Uber (www.Uber.com) since our launch in Kenya’s capital in January 2015. Added together, that’s roughly eight million kilometers, or enough to go to the moon and back ten times. Those trips didn’t happen on a space rocket though - they happened right here in cars on the streets of Nairobi, with more than 1,000 local drivers earning money as a result.

The reason we offer such good value prices is because our advanced technology means there are fewer minutes wasted for drivers. With Uber, drivers don’t sit idle in a queue waiting for their next passenger. And they don’t travel as far, or as often, with an empty car.

Now we want to get even more business for our partners - by dropping prices by 35%. After years of experience, including in cities like Lagos in Nigeria, we have learnt that price cuts boost demand so more people request more rides with Uber, meaning drivers spend more time earning.

It’s a virtuous cycle. We can keep prices low for everyone, while maximising the amount of time drivers have a rider in the back seat.

Nate Anderson, Uber’s General Manager in Kenya, explains, “We are committed to making Uber the most affordable and safest option to move around Nairobi. Our experience shows us we can make that happen while making Uber the best way for drivers to earn. This also means riders can ditch their car keys and travel with Uber more often. For some it will make Uber cheaper than owning a car. This means fewer cars on the road, less traffic, and fewer issues trying to find parking.”

To help drivers using Uber, Uber has also partnered with Total to provide some great deals on fuel. This partnership allows Nairobi driver-partners to receive a great discount off every litre of fuel and as an added extra they can get a power wash for KES200.

“We believe these changes will help, but while the city adjusts to the new prices, we are putting in place minimum payment guarantees for drivers to ensure they don’t lose out. And if the amount they make on the road isn't what we expect, we’ll reassess this price change,” says Nate Anderson.

Uber is all about making sure people have a safe, reliable, affordable and convenient way to get from A to B. With these changes, Uber hopes even more people in Nairobi will let Uber help them get where they need to be.

Old fares vs New fares

  • Old uberX fares: KES 100 base, KES 60 per KM, KES 4 per minute, KES 300 minimum, KES 200 cancellation
  • New uberX fares after Price Cut: KES 100 base, KES 35 per KM, KES 3 per minute, KES 200 minimum, KES 200 cancellation

Press Release from Uber

Saturday, 30 April 2016 00:00

Uniting Africa's Renewable Energy Journey

Written by

When Mr and Mrs Anthony Ighodaro touched down in Munich Germany in 1997, they were excited about this new chapter of their lives. The move from London to Munich was necessitated by Mrs Ighodaro’s new assignment to help in setting up a joint telecoms venture. Munich would now be their new home for two years until 1999.

Coming from London’s fast-paced melting pot, Munich was a breath of fresh air for Anthony. He felt instantly at home as he took in the Southern German City.

Rachel Johnson the British journalist famously said of Munich that, ‘of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach.’ But for Anthony, the demands of Munich were directed to his mind.

He was drawn to the baroque architecture of the Nymphenburg palace. Built by two generations of Bavarian rulers, this palace sits majestically in a corner of Munich. It still looks as fresh and regal as it did in 1675 when its central pavilion was completed. He also spent days studying the old masters art collection at the Alte Pinakothek. This art museum is one of the oldest galleries in the world. Being in it almost felt like stepping into a time capsule from the nineteenth century.

Every time he took a walk in Munich, Anthony marvelled at the seamless blending of old and new buildings standing side by side as if rooted in similar yet varying architectural harmony. Over 600 years old, the oldest brewery was nestled next to the latest biotech research institute.

This harmony extended to public transportation where cycling paths sometimes ran alongside roads before taking detours into their very own meanderings that traversed all through the city. It made him want to jump onto a bike and cycle, which struck him as an impulse that was in tandem with sustainability since cycling was healthy both for the environment and the cyclist. Within weeks, Anthony was already acting on this impulse during weekends when he would cycle for at least fifty kilometres, exploring differrent biking routes and discovering those joyful Bavarian bierkellers where drink and mirth flowed merrily. He especially loved the bierkellers communal feel.

Indeed, Muncheners (Munich residents) didn’t seem to have any of that supposed German snobbishness that is also ascribed to Britons. Rather they seemed to have a zest for life that the rest of the world usually gets a glimpse of during the legendary Oktoberfest Beer Festival. A conversation with many Muncheners also often revealed a deep appreciation of philosophy and engineering, two things that were close to Anthony's heart.

Away from the big city, the Bavarian countryside was even more serene with the Austrian alps just an hour’s drive south of Munich. Anthony learned to ski there. Thanks to the proximity of lakes Ammersee and Starnberg to his residence, he also learned to sail. After acquiring sailing and skiing skills, he liked to joke that he could now walk on land, snow and water!

Back in his house, he was constantly struck by the fact that there were five dustbins and waste had to be sorted accordingly. Recycling was indeed taken quite seriously here!

One chilly morning, wrapped in a woollen coat and a matching woollen cap, Anthony’s errands took him to the vicinity of Siemens, the electronics and industrial conglomerate that was founded in 1847. A streetlight in the Siemens car park instantly gripped his attention when he realized that it was powered by solar. This may be commonplace now but in 1998, it wasn’t.

Anthony later met the engineer who had designed the streetlight and had a long conversation with him. He eventually convinced him to design a solar system that could power his fax machine back in Nigeria. Anthony’s forward thinking mentality was informed by the belief that unless solar energy became relevant to daily utilities, it would remain on the fringes of everyday life.

Anthony subsequently became deeply interested in linking Germany’s solar technology and financial resources with Nigeria’s solar resources and electricity needs. In other words, Germany had the money and technology whereas Nigeria had the sun and massive electricity deficiency. In order to play a role in writing a different chapter for his country, Anthony decided to dip his pen in the solar ink. He enrolled for a Siemens Solar PV course that left him with a firmer technical knowhow on solar technology.

Scott Adams, the American cartoonist has wryly written that, ‘Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.’ For Anthony, the former part of Scott’s quote came into full play when he became increasingly acquainted with Germany’s renewable energy exploits.

When he saw that solar-powered streetlight, Anthony’s engineer’s-problem-solving mentality had kicked into full gear. After completing the Siemens course, he decided to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s words and become the change he wanted to see in Nigeria. In 1999, he did that by establishing KXN Nigeria Ltd, a private company for distributing, assembling, installing and maintaining Solar PV equipment in Nigeria. Though private, this company was a social enterprise because its driving force was providing renewable energy solutions for the people of Nigeria, especially in the rural areas where the National Grid was yet to penetrate.

Less than three years later in 2002, KXN found itself in the thick of social business. It teamed up with the University of Maiduguri and BP Solar to train technicians in installation and maintenance of both PV refrigerators and other PV systems. These technicians were subsequently able to install 189 solar-powered vaccine refrigerator systems in 90 villages across the north east of Nigeria. These innovative efforts earned KXN a 2005 Ashden award.

KXN Team transporting solar equipment by Camel in Northern Nigeria/Photo Courtesy of Anthony Ighodaro

 

Armed with such renewable energy experience, Anthony found himself at a World Future Council conference in Ethiopia back in 2009. The World Future Council is a Foundation that researches, identifies and spreads the best and most sustainable policy solutions worldwide. During its 2009 Ethiopia meeting, the Council founded the Africa Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA), a member-driven network that has gradually grown to comprise of more than 2000 members from over 100 countries.

In the inaugural Ethiopia meeting, Anthony was appointed Chairman of AREA’s twelve-member steering committee. As Chairman, he was now charged with the responsibility of helping steer AREA in its quest of playing a catalytic role in promoting knowledge transfer and international cooperation in renewables. In Anthony’s own words, AREA ‘accelerates the uptake of renewable energy across Africa.’

Such acceleration is primarily achieved through the knowledge platform that AREA has created where its hundreds of members can exchange information and consult about policies, technologies and financial mechanisms for the deployment of renewable energies in Africa.

The AREA platform has subsequently helped renewable energy players across Africa to take informed action and to find common ground for renewable action. Anthony believes that one of the renewables initiatives that can be scaled up across the continent is South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

REIPPPP is a ground-breaking public-private partnership that has already attracted an investment of $13 billion over six years. These billions were unlocked through an exemplary and accessible bidding process which attracted widespread bidding from quality investors.

Another renewable energy initiative that appeals to Anthony is the Regional Solar Program (RSP) which spanned across 9 Sahelian countries from 1990 to 1998. This EU-funded program was launched by the Interstate Committee for Drought Control (CILSS). The solar energy that it provided in rural areas was particularly vital as it was used to power water pumps during a period of widespread drought.

Such successful renewable energy projects provide efficient case studies that can be duly upscaled across Africa. Through the AREA platform, it is possible for such knowledge to be shared and tapped into. Since knowledge is only as powerful as its application, AREA enables Africans and friends of Africa to know more concerning renewable energy and hopefully execute more.

Monday, 09 November 2015 00:00

Half Kudos to Green Energy - Ngong Wind Farm

Written by

I saw pepper on the lush green northern part of the Ngong Hills. Wind turbines sit as beautiful dots on the already panoramic view of the hills. The arabesque pose of the ballet dancer found itself in the blades of a wind turbine head above me. I was David and the wind turbine tower was Goliath. These tall, strong structures were a sight to behold. Two small boys engaged in a game of tapo (tag) across from where I walked.

A walk to the wind farm from Ngong town takes roughly twenty five minutes. Talking to residents along the way, not many were particularly familiar with the workings of the farm until I encountered James Sululu and Joseph Kirrinkol. If nothing betrayed their maasai heritage, they needed only speak.

James is tall, dark and his English came to the fore with a bit of a strong maasai accent. Joseph is also tall but lighter skinned with a less pronounced accent and was eager to engage in conversation about the wind farm. They have lived next to the wind farm since before it inception, since they were boys.

Where Kenya relies highly on hydro for its electricity needs and this can be severely hampered by fluctuation in rainfall causing expensive power rationing; green energy in the form of renewable resources such as wind farming is a cheaper alternative albeit with a lower energy output. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics as at 2014 hydro sources of electricity generated 3569 GWh of energy while wind generated 17.0 GWh. Other sources such as thermal oil and geo thermal generated 2585.2 and 2917.4 GWh respectively.

Driven by heat energy from the sun, colossal convection currents in the earth’s atmosphere produce wind. The green factor is found in the fact that as long as the sun is present, wind will always be available. There are no fuel costs when using wind. Pollution does not occur with wind power. It does not produce harmful gases or other pollutants.

One wind turbine takes up a small plot of land and so land surrounding a small wind farm can be used for agricultural purposes such as farming. Wind farms make for an interesting feature of a landscape though this may be arguable. Remote areas which cannot access the electricity power grid can use wind turbines for their electricity supply.

Wind turbines are also available in a range of sizes and this means that a wide range of people and businesses can use them. Lastly climate change which is a threat to wildlife is mitigated by wind energy which reduces CO2 emissions and avoids the consumption of billions of gallons of water annually.

The cliché, ‘thank God for Mother Nature,’ applies well in the above regard. James and Joseph can however tell you that although sometimes clichés express sentiments best, in this case it is with a sense of half heartedness. In his half heartedness Joseph comes up with the summation, “If you are going to do something, do it well.”

For the 22 years that the wind farm in Ngong, Kajiado County has been in existence, James and Joseph can appreciate that wind provides a good source of electricity, is environmentally friendly and contributes to the development of a third world country like Kenya but they opine that better consultation with the surrounding community could have been done. That’s what Joseph is alluding to with, “… do it well.”

The surrounding community and specifically James and Joseph have experienced some negative effects with the installation of the turbines and most especially the first four turbines which they say are within a 100 meter perimeter of their homes.

These effects include poor mobile phone network, noise pollution (the vibrating noise produced by wind turbines is not only a nuisance but can cause sleep disruption and therefore stress), when the turbines are put off it can be quite frightening as it becomes silent very suddenly, the shadow of the turning turbine as seen inside a house can be disturbing and James and Joseph worry that young children can get eye problems and coughs. Furthermore for James and Joseph unlike me the beautiful landscape of the Ngong Hill has been disfigured by this wind farm what with soil erosion as well.

Other challenges posed by dependence on wind energy comprise that it can be unreliable and wind turbines are unpredictable. Birds can get killed or injured when they fly into turbines and so it is important for thorough environmental assessment of all ecological impacts that may come with the erection of a wind farm be undertaken. This way major migration routes, important feeding, breeding and roosting areas of bird species can be avoided.

Still, the erection of the wind farm has provided opportunities for employment for the neighboring community. Joseph is one beneficiary. He was employed as a health and safety officer for three months. Others have been employed as security guards. Owner Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen), the leading electric power generation company in Kenya has also built two classes for a school in the area and a borehole. They have also planted grass to curb soil erosion and to reduce the rising of dust especially during the dry season.

The Ngong wind farm began with two wind turbines commissioned in 1993. These first two turbines were a donation from the Belgian government and would help prove that the northern part of the Ngong Hills has a favorable wind regime. And so it was that in August of 2009, the second phase of the farm was commissioned. This second phase has a capacity of 5.1 MW of power.

In 2014, Iberdrola Ingenieria in a consortium with Gamesa, a global technological leader in the wind industry added 13.6 MW to the second phase under the Ngong II project. They installed 16 Spanish manufactured G52 Gamesa turbines completing the project on a turnkey basis over a period of one year.

Through this Ngong II initiative a new electricity distribution system including a high voltage network, with 15 new kilometres of overhead and underground power lines will be established. Even more, four substations - Athi River, Isinya, Ngong and Koma Rock producing 220 kilovolts (kV) in each case will be put up.

Lastly, an extension to the most important substation in the city, Dandora, also producing 220 kV will be constructed. The Ngong II wind farm is the largest wind farm in East Africa. KenGen plans to increase the capacity of the Ngong wind farm to 25.5 MW.  

The government of Kenya is on an ambitious journey to add 5000 MW on the national grid with renewable facilities like the Ngong wind farm. Yet another project in this line is the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project which will host 365 turbines. Other wind farms in Africa include the Tarfaya wind farm in Morocco, the Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia and Sere and Gouda wind farms in South Africa.

Sometimes only a dash of pepper makes the food uber delicious. As James and Joseph tell, living near a wind farm can be quite a challenge but forget not the benefits. Half kudos!

Friday, 16 October 2015 00:00

And then Came the Light

Written by

I stumbled over a bag of shopping I’d forgotten to unpack that morning, and cursed my own laziness, whilst stretching out both hands in front of me, crouched down so as to avoid chairs and other bits of furniture I might have forgotten about. Inching my way forward I finally made it to the bed, slid under the net, tucking it in as best I could on all corners but feeling the uneven stretched fabric becoming dislodged at the opposite corner every time I pulled in any given direction. I’d clearly done it wrong, but I couldn’t see for the life of me how. But I knew why.

Living in the darkness is like that every day before the sun comes up, and every night when the life-giving ball of fire decides to call it a night. I was only doing this blackout role-play because my light switch was on the other side of the bedroom and because I was too lazy to go and buy a bedside lamp (it’s such a tedious task, buying useful home appliances).

But the people I interacted with on a day-to-day basis didn’t have this choice. They would have loved to have the choice of whether or not to go and pick a lamp for a few thousand shilling (the equivalent to a few dollars), or of just leaving the lights on at night out of pure laziness, as I have been known to do.

For the millions of people who lack access to safe, reliable energy across the continent, there are billions more who are unaware of their struggle. And as I almost fell over my own momentary blindness in the darkness of the night in my comfortable, electrified bedroom, I knew that I was one of the lucky ones, because I was aware of how fortunate I was.

When I started working for a solar energy company I knew very little, but I was aware that it was a necessary good which could have a far-reaching impact on the people we would work with and the wider international community. This never hit me harder than the first day on the job.

When we arrived at Paul’s village in Sengerema District, he first guided us through the centre of the community, past the mobile money shop, the grocery shop and the bike repair shack, and then we were out of the village already.

It wasn’t a long journey, but the route to his home wasn’t finished there. We veered to the right, and the dirt track turned into a dust trace, barely visible amongst the overgrown grass crowding in on either side. We filed along, one behind the other, like electric particles through a narrow cable to power one feeble yellow light. The sun was almost thinking of setting, so we had to hurry to be able to finish the job before absolute darkness fell.

Paul was up at the front, guiding the way, plodding along with pride at being able to take us to the house that he’d built for his family with his brother and his brother-in-law just 6 years ago. George was behind him, carrying the solar panels and equipment, piled high on his backpack and loading down his arms. I was in charge of the paperwork and tools, a lighter load, but I was scared of losing something important, so I clutched my backpack to me like a newborn.

A good 10 minutes later we arrived at a small homestead, where children stopped playing and stood in dumbfounded silence at seeing the unusual party approach their homes. Goats bleated at us and then turned away, disinterested in us as we didn’t carry anything edible or which even resembled greenery.

“Are we here?” exclaimed George expectantly, as he started to loosen the straps from his shoulders in order to swing it down from his aching back.

“Nearly, very nearly”, he was calmly reassured by a stoic Paul, who didn’t stop walking, and so it was difficult to read his face.

We carried on like this for a further 15 minutes. The closest electrical cables connecting to the grid (which actually passed over the village but were only connected to one house, owned by a local politician who had built a home here when vying for power) were so far behind us that I couldn’t even remember what they looked like.

My mind and vision were filled with yellow grass, rolling, flat-topped hills and the repeated movement of one foot in front of the other which it felt like I’d been doing since birth, though it had only really been 25 minutes.

And then I saw it. A perfectly-proportioned, ever so slightly wobbly mud hut with a corrugated iron roof and an outhouse with pots and pons, where Paul’s wife was sitting and scrubbing dishes clean, no doubt from that day’s ugali feast.

“We are here”, announced Paul, and almost pushed us into the house, eager to power up his new solar investment.

His 2 children sat on the ground by the entrance, and scuttled to the side to let us through, dirtying their clothes even more, and no doubt part of the reason why Paul’s wife dragged them off to throw buckets of water over their hot, dusty bodies once we were safely inside.

It took my eyes some time to get accustomed to the lack of light. I tried to open my eyes as wide as possible to be able to inspect the surroundings, but after a couple of minutes, I realized that it didn’t get any better.

One meager ray of dusky light broke its way in through the crack in the top layer of mud, and the doorway afforded some secondhand daylight, thankfully, so we could just about make out where Paul intended us to set up his lights.

Once we got down to work, it took us only about 45 minutes to power up Paul’s house. It would have been quicker but we had to keep flitting between outside and inside to be able to see which cables we were attaching to the other for fear of making disastrous mistakes in our inevitable blindness.

Paul called the family in to see the big switch-on. His wife, Rachael, came in first, followed by the 2 small children, Paul’s brother, his 3 children, a neighbor (who in reality lived a 10-minute walk away), his sister-in-law from his other brother and some children who could have belonged to anyone.

They huddled together in the small room, pressing against the dusty walls and chattering away in Sukuma, the language of the lakes region of Tanzania, at a speed and volume that made it impossible for me to even make out the tone of their conversations, and then they held their breath as I pointed at the lightbulbs we’d just fitted to the ceiling, and then pointed my forefinger and middle finger at my eyes, then their eyes, then back to mine, indicating that they should watch closely. I pressed “on”. The children covered their eyes, astounded by the brightness, and Paul smiled at Rachael, as she nodded back at him.

2 months later we came back to Paul’s house. I would never have been able to find the way back, but George had a keen sense of direction, and was able to guide us. It was, essentially, a straight walk, but I’d been so distracted by my thoughts on how to give these directions to others, that I hadn’t even properly noticed them the first time.

Rachael greeted us, and brought us chairs. They hadn’t had these plastic chairs last time we had come. She explained that they had been making extra money since having the panels and lights, and had been charging the phones of members of the community in their homes, bringing enough money to buy the chairs. One of the children was outside, taunting a goat walking in circles round its peg. Where was the other?

It was a similar time of day to our previous visit, and the day’s last ounces of sunlight were being used up in a celebratory exhalation of vibrant yellow.

We walked inside, and instead of being plunged into darkness, as I’d expected, we hardly noticed a difference between the brightness outside and that which we found inside. There, in the corner of the room, by the lights, was the other child, sitting below the lights counting on her fingers and scribbling down answers to maths problems.

She smiled coyly at us and got on with her homework. Paul explained how her grades had improved since we’d paid a visit and delivered their new appliances. He gently tapped her head as we walked back outside, and then with that same proud, fatherly hand, he took my hand, held it between his 2 palms and nodded his head gratefully, though I had done nothing.

I was mesmerised by his parenting, the way he provided for his family and respected the members of his community in a way which made me ashamed for all the times I’d dismissed other people without a second thought.

As I got into bed that night after nearly tripping over a shopping bag, I looked as far into the darkness as I could, and saw just how much difference a little bit of light can make in a person’s life.

Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00

Life.Saving.Stoves

Written by

Every evening when I was growing up I would sit on the stairs of our front porch watching and waiting for even the softest breeze to help with my jiko-lighting. In most cases, there would be no breeze to assist me. If the jiko was to catch fire and let me be on my way to the playground with the rest of the kids from my estate, then I would have to blow life into it straight from my lungs.

It was an arduous task, to say the least. A page of an old newspaper would go into the opening of the jiko, matches at the end of the newspaper, my mouth close to both, and I would blow as hard as I could. Sometimes I was lucky enough to have forgotten that there was ash under there and get my whole face filled with the gray stuff.

I hated lighting those things. I vowed to never ever own one and never make my daughter light one, until I saw an advertisement of a jiko a few months ago as I was queuing at the bank. Life saving stoves, they called them, but an energy saving jiko is what you probably know them as.

An energy-saving jiko has plenty of benefits. It is better on the environment because it releases a lot less smoke than a regular jiko. It also uses less charcoal. Some brands boast the use of almost half the charcoal a regular jiko uses. This reduces the rate of deforestation in the country. Energy-saving jikos also produce more heat and your food is ready before people start complaining of hunger. Traditional jikos can take ages to boil a small pot of water. The energy-saving jiko is a life-saver for most women who have used the traditional jiko.

Statistics show that in the next few decades, urbanization and population growth will increase charcoal consumption by 50.82% percent. This means more pollution in the form of smoke and toxic gases, and less forests, not to mention more neighbors! As if there are not enough people in urban areas already. My building houses 86 bedsitters, each of which can comfortably hold two-four people in 1/16th acre piece of land.

Water is a luxury and 100 liter storage containers are the norm. When I have running water for 24 hours straight, I can barely contain myself. I want to wash everything and every inch of my house. In a few years, getting water even thrice weekly will become a luxury. The least I (we) can do is improve on the areas that we can because some areas we will not be able to change.

Sure, even the energy-saving jikos are not the most environmentally friendly. While toxic gas reduction is reduced, it is not completely eliminated. However, before you pass judgment, consider that we all have to make small changes like converting to energy-friendly options to make a big difference as a whole. Almost half (45.9%) of Kenya’s 45.55 million (2014) or so people live below the poverty line which is exceptionally low as is expected of a lower-middle income country.

Despite the availability of energy-saving jikos in Nairobi, I do not own one. Obviously I’m a sweet talker, who cannot back up her convincing words with actions, right? Wrong. I desperately want a jiko that will use half the charcoal as the one’s I used in my childhood and exude 80% less smoke (Honestly, the smoke is incentive enough to get one). I just do not live in a place conducive to use such an appliance. Hear me out before you once again go passing judgment.

First of all, I live in a one-roomed (roomed, not bed-roomed) house with no balcony. So using a jiko, energy-saving or otherwise, would be impossible. In fact, of all the 86 ‘houses’ in my building, none uses a jiko. It is simply impractical to use one here. Or maybe it’s because none of the people living in my building are part of the 45.9%. Anyway, point is, the environment is not friendly for jiko use, not even an environmentally friendly one.

Excuse number two is that energy-saving jikos are not as cheap as regular jikos. A jikokoa charcoal stove goes for about KES 3500. This is about the amount of money I spend on gas in about 7-9 months of moderate to heavy use. I am a heavy user. I cook every meal, unless I’m having overnight oats in which case I heat water for coffee (instant) to take with it. Considering that I bought my gas cylinder complete with a burner for KES 4500, the jikokoa really is cheaper. No excuses here.

Excuse number three… No more excuses. The more I write, the more I realize all I have been telling myself about getting a sustainable jiko has been for naught. I want to be part of the statistics of energy-saving jikos. I want to be part of the 300,000 lives changed and to contribute to the KES 11.1 million saved. I want to be part of the 1.8 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa whose lives have changed by 2050. It could be sooner if more of us sit down and realize we’ve been making too many excuses. And on my path to a clean diet, I want to be a user of clean cooking technology, as well.

One person cannot change the world, but when it comes to sustainability, a small change by everyone makes a bigger difference. It’s no wonder environmentalists are such great speakers. Part of their cause, as with any other, is to convince people to believe in it enough to make those small changes that accumulate to make big impacts. I keep saying small changes because in the context of nature as a whole, they are small. However, the changes are actually grand. Even if it takes a few months for the effect to be felt.

Just like my poor eating habits, which are steadily declining, my sustainable actions will consistently improve. I might be the next Wangari Mathai. Not all leaders are born, some have it thrust down their throats by circumstance, duty and guilty consciences. I want to get to line having struggled and fought. It does not matter how you get there, though. All that matters is that you finally crossed the finish line, in a way. Becoming sustainable is not the end of sustainability, after all. I love jikokoa’s motto, ‘Life. Saving. Stoves.’ Imagine saving a life, yours or someone else’s.