July 4 2011

A lighthouse for solar development in Africa

04/07/2011 - Energy from fossil fuels in Africa is expensive, unreliable and environmentally irresponsible. Since March 2011, the SOS Children’s Village Mombasa has been powered by a grid-connected solar power plant, a novelty in Kenya and much of Africa.

Photo: GIZ
The solar power plant is one of the first of its kind in Africa - Photo: GIZ
The electrical power grids in many African countries have always been notoriously unreliable and remain unreliable to this day. Kenya’s rapid economic growth and a lack of investments in energy have led to frequent power shortages even though there is high potential for solar energy in Kenya and Africa in general.

Power shortages in spite of great potential for solar power
The new solar power system in the SOS Children’s Village Mombasa is grid-connected, which means that it feeds electrical power into the public power grid during the day and taps into the grid when the need for electricity is high, i.e. in the evening. That makes it one of the first photovoltaic systems of its kind in Africa, the first of its kind in Kenya and the very first for SOS Children’s Villages. As Ruth Okowa from SOS Children’s Villages Kenya points out, the energy from the new system “is economical in the long run, reliable and environmentally responsible on top of that”.

Frequent power cuts are inconvenient, even dangerous
It is not unheard of for SOS mothers to be forced get up when it is still dark outside to make sure the children’s breakfast is ready by the time they have to go to school. But aside from being simply inconvenient, the frequent power cuts can have much more serious, sometimes dangerous consequences. In addition to its many other programmes that support families and communities throughout Africa, SOS Children’s Villages runs numerous SOS Medical Centres that are often equipped with life-supporting machinery.

Full “make-over” turns SOS Children’s Village Mombasa green
Towards the end of 2009, preparations were being made to renovate the SOS Children’s Village in Mombasa, Kenya. In the 30 years since its construction, many of the buildings were in dire need of repair. SOS Children’s Villages decided to use the opportunity to turn the village into a “green” village. A generous contribution from our partner Danone Holland and our countless supporters made possible a full overhaul of the village’s power supply, including the construction of an innovative solar power plant, in operation since March of 2011, that is nothing short of historical.

Photo: GIZ
An African-German cooperation guarantees the system will be well maintained - Photo: GIZ
African-German partnership guarantees maintenance and repairs
When installing such a technologically innovative system, it is important to have competent partners nearby who can maintain and, if necessary, repair the plant. Through their partnership with African Solar Designs Ltd., German company Asantys Systems GmbH could guarantee that their African partners would be available for repairs at short notice. The project was also supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as well as the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

Photo: GIZ
The mechanisms and principles of the plant were well explained to the children - Photo: GIZ
A hands-on experience of clean energy for the children
Both the staff and the children of the SOS Children’s Village Mombasa learned about solar power straight from the experts, who gave them both theoretical and hands-on  demonstrations of the new power plant powering their village and their school. Hopefully, this first-hand experience with renewable energy will inspire the children and future generations that renewable energy is the way of the future for Africa and the planet as a whole.