Offgrid Innovation Impacting Rural Development, Climate Resilience Across Central America, Others


PUNTA CANAAt an international workshop organised by the Smart Villages Initiative and the Academy of Sciences of the Dominican Republic there was unanimous agreement on the potential of renewable energy in its various forms—solar, wind, biomass and mini-hydro—to play a major role in both rural development and enhancing the climatic resilience of off-grid communities in Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

According to Dr. John Holmes, Co-Leader of the Smart Village Initiative, the workshop exceeded expectations: “While our main initial focus was on how off-grid solutions could help the over 10 million people in the region without any electricity access, three other issues rapidly became apparent during the presentations and ensuing discussions. 

Firstly, from Nicaragua to Nevis, there are numerous examples of off-grid energy already being used beyond domestic needs to power productive uses such as improving agricultural productivity. Secondly, the whole region is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and flooding, and new constantly-evolving off-grid energy generation and management technologies could greatly increase the resilience of rural communities. Thirdly, we were surprised given our experience in other areas of the world that pay as you go was not being used to help poorer communities acquire solar home systems. We are now planning follow-up activities on individual issues and will end by drawing up policy recommendations for regional and national governments on improving access and ensuring its benefits are fully exploited.”

Workshop topics included: renewable energy and energy efficiency for rural economic development and for improving social services (health and education); access to energy for risk management against natural disasters; renewable energy to increase local energy security; opportunities and challenges for the private sector in the rural electrification sector; and regulatory framework for rural electrification.

International organisations participating included the United Nations Development Programme; the World Bank; the Inter-American Development Bank; GIZ; and the University of California, Berkeley. Participants from the region included the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE); the Inter-American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS); the Energy Network Foundation; the Caribbean Association of Sustainable Energy Managers; the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Efficiency (CCREEE), Barbados; the Hinterland Electrification Company, Guyana; ACCIONA Microenergia, Mexico; the National Autonomous University of Mexico; and the Renewable Energy Producers, Guatemala.

Dominican Republic representatives include the National Energy Commission (CNE); the Ministry for Education, Focal Point Energy IANAS-ACRD; Programa de Pequeños Subsidios; Universidad APEC UNAPEC; Electric Consortium; Diagnostic Centre for Advanced Medicine and Telemedicine (CEDMAT); and Latino Academia Latino Americana Superior.

A report on the workshop will be published on the website

Fish Smoking Hazards: How SNV Helps Ghana on Health & Environment


By Abdallah el-Kurebe

In Ghana, many people, especially women, who live along the coastal areas are engaged in fish smoking, known as ‘Namhowfo’ in Akan, one of the languages spoken in the country. As a means of living, fish smoking as it were, was done by traditional, inefficient smoking stoves. This method affects both human health and the environment.

< Wire mesh Iron mesh

According to the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), in Ghana like in other countries, traditional fish smoking stoves had exposed women to harmful smoke. This causes 16,600 deaths annually, in addition to environmental degradation, which comes in form of mangroves destruction. Mangroves are the sources of fuelwood for fish smoking.

A survey by SNV gives 120,000 as the number of traditional and Chorkor fish smoking stoves that are used in coastal regions for fish smoking. The survey states that, “The smoke from these stoves affects people’s eye-sights and also causes lung-related diseases.” This development informed SNV’s decision to develop the Morrison Improved Fish Smoker that seeks to attain 40 percent efficiency in fish smoking. Today, many communities are enjoying the new technology along with the FAO Thiaroye Technology (FTT) stove, transferred to Ghana from Cameroon.

Women sorting fish on wire Mesh v

Women sorting fish for smoking

Also, in order to improve the livelihoods of women involved in fish smoking and combat the deforestation associated with their activities, the Renewable Energy sector of SNV got “funding from DGIS for a two-year Improved Fish Smoking and Mangrove Restoration project (IFS) to support sustainable energy value chain in fish smoking markets in Ghana by improving both supply and demand side activities.

Typical Morrison Stove

A typical Morrison Fish Smoking Stove>

A field visit to Anyakpor coastal village by participants of the Smart Villages West Africa Regional workshop, organised by the Smart Villages Initiatives in collaboration with SNV was an eye-opener. Participants listened to women who smoke fish expressing their happiness for the introduction of the Morrison stove. They counted benefits to include increased volume of processed fish, increased profit, minimal hazard caused by smoke, etc.

Mrs. Helen Afiagbedefu smokes fish in Anyakpor village. She was using the Chorkor before the introduction of the Morrison Fish Smoking Stove said, in an exclusive interview, that the process of smoking fish was now faster, less hazardous and more money-yielding. She told of how, after switching to the Morrison stove, women in Anyakpor noticed the difference, especially in terms of reduced health hazards caused by the smoke and increased income as a result of the volume of fish smoked, compared to the traditional method hitherto used.

Sorted fish on wire mesh v

Sorted Fish

“Fish smoking has become faster for us now. I now smoke ten 25-litre containers of fish in two to three hours by using Morrison stove. I used to smoke the same quantity in three days by use of traditional method. Now, if I want to smoke fish, I arrange wire mesh in layers. I then spread the fishes on each of the mesh, numbering three, four or five. I would then place a chimney on top of the wire mesh rails to reduce the smoke, which negetively affects our health,” Afiagbedefu said through an interpreter.

Laying mesh on the stove for smoking

< Laying mesh on stove for smoking

She said that with the new stove, “women in Anyakpor are now making more money because we spend less time to smoke fish using this new stove than when we were using the traditional stove,” adding that “prices of smoked fish range between 40 and 100 Cedis, depending on the size of the fish. I make an average profit of between 30 to 50 Cedis a month.”

Mrs Afiagbedefu explaining fish smoking process


Mrs Afiagbedefu explaining the process of fish smoking to participants of Smart Villages West Africa Regional workshop >





Fish being smoked with the improved Morrison stove




Fish being smoked using Morrison stove

It therefore means that if governments in West Africa would promote the use of renewable energy in smoking fish, Mangroves would be preserved and the health hazard caused by smoke would be averted. In this regard too, the West African sub-region should design reforms that would promote renewable energy sources in which case, the private sector would play a more active role.

Ghana to Install 56,000 Solar Systems, Two Million Solar Lanterns By 2030 – Energy Commission


Pres. Mahama.png

Ghana’s President Mahama

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Accra, Ghana – May 23, 2016: Ghana plans to install a total of 56,000 solar systems, two million solar lanterns and 200 mini-grids in pursuance with achieving the global target of access to affordable and clean energy by the year 2030. The country has already 80 percent energy access, acting Director, Renewable Energy at the country’s Energy Commission, Kwabena Otu-Danquah has disclosed.

Otu-Danquah, who represented Ghana’s Ministry of Power, stated this in a Keynote Address at the opening of a Smart Villages West Africa Regional Workshop organised by the Smart Villages Initiatives in collaboration with SNV, a Netherlands Development Organisation on Monday in Accra, Ghana.

According to him, 2,400 systems had been installed in public facilities, where the country targets 6,000 systems; 16,800 solar home systems had been deployed with a target of 50,000 and 70,000 solar lanterns had been deployed with a target of two million lanterns by 2030.

“Under the Standalone Renewable Energy-based electrification options, solar systems for public facilities, including schools, clinics and security outposts, are being deployed and to date, about 2,400 systems have been installed. The target is to install 6,000 systems by 2030. Deployment of solar home systems for lighting and phone charging in rural off-grid households is also ongoing. Over 16,800 systems have been deployed to date. The target is to deploy 50,000 by 2030.

Under the programme to replace kerosene lanterns with solar lanterns nationwide, 70,000 solar lanterns have been deployed since 2013. The target is to replace two million kerosene lanterns by 2030,” Otu-Danquah stated.

In addition, Otu-Danquah disclosed that in order to deploy 200 mini-grips by 2030, Ghana had received funding from the Scaling-up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) to the tune of US$17.5 million to implement 55 solar Photo Voltaic (PV)-based mini-grids in the next three years.

While admitting that there were communities that might not be electrified in the near future as a result of difficult terrain, he explained that government policy had provided for the deployment of decentralised renewable energy-based interventions; adding that the current energy access rate in Ghana stood at 80% through grid extension. “In our mini-grid electrification schemes (solar, wind or diesel hybrids), four demonstration mini-grids have been installed to provide energy access in densely populated remote islands and lakesides communities.”

To address the question of affordability, Otu-Danquah stated that Ghana had introduced uniform tariff both for grid and off-grid electrification. “To ensure that the poor majority who live in the rural areas are not disadvantaged, the tariff has been structured such that the high consuming residential households subsidize the low consuming households. Government has a lifeline tariff scheme in place for consumers below 50kWh/month.”

He stated that for the 72 percent population that still used firewood and charcoal for cooking, which in turn, have negative effects on the country’s forest and health of women and children, “the Ghana SE4ALL Action Plan seeks to ensure the use of clean cooking fuels and efficient end-use devices.

Dr. Bernie Jones, Project Co-Leader of Smart Villages Initiatives said that the West Africa Regional workshop objectives included what the major barriers of improving energy access for remote rural communities in West Africa are and how public, private and multilateral investments and actions could complement each other to support energy projects aimed at off-grid rural communities.

Others are how local community participation could improve sustainability of off-grid energy programmes and how improved energy access could increase opportunities for gainful employment, improved productivity and new businesses in remote rural communities.

The workshop is attended by participants from West African countries of Nigeria, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’IVoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo with others from Canada, France and Kenya..


Off-grid Smart Villages States key role of mini-hydro schemes in Nepal


Off-grid Smart Villages States key role of mini-hydro schemes in Nepal
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

As a follow up to the awareness campaign on rural energy for policymakers in Eastern Africa, held in Arusha, Tanzania in June last year, SmartVillages Initiative has launched a Smart Villages and Practical Action off-grid village energy workshop in Nepal.

The Arusha workshop explored the East African/Tanzanian environment for village energy, local case studies, challenges and opportunities, with a view to formulating policy recommendations for policymakers, funders, NGOs and other stakeholders in that region.

The Smart Villages Kathmandu Workshop held on April 10th was directed at learning “from the Nepalese expertise in off-grid energy provision that might help other countries in South Asia and beyond. In particular, mini-hydro was identified as an under-utilized technology with massive global potential,” Communications Officer of SmartVillages, Meredith Thomas said in a release.

The workshop brought together a cross-section of participants in the Nepali off-grid energy sector.

Co-leader of the Initiative, John Holmes stated that “Energy provision is on the agenda for the new Sustainability Goals and both ourselves and Practical Action are looking to provide policy guidance on how best to reach ‘last mile’ remote off-grid communities,” adding,
“Holding workshops in key regions enables us to gain a better understanding of local solutions and experience that might yield broader lessons.”

The workshop’s agenda harped on the necessary conditions that would ensure that development benefits flowed directly from energy access. “It also sought to develop an appreciation of the distinctive challenges encountered in Nepal and how they have been overcome,” the statement added.

The Nepalese Government-run centre, the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, including other stakeholders in the private sector, shared their experiences in promoting off-grid renewable energy projects.

The discussions that followed dwelled on rural electricity access transformation “by use of market mapping to identify barriers to the development of village mini-grid markets and possible interventions.”

The workshop also identified that “small hydroelectric plants installed on naturally occurring rivers and streams, were seen as a promising technology.”

The Nepal Micro Hydropower Development Association said that the technology had successfully generated approximately 28MW of electricity in Nepal, adding that a total of 2,900 micro-hydro plants of different sizes and capacities, had been installed and grants access to 350,000 households.

The workshop provided new insights from the experiences of installing micro-hydro mini-grids in remote villages in Nepal.

“We also received an update on the initiatives being taken to catalyse productive enterprises at the village level enabled by access to electricity”, Holmes explained.

Further, the discussion delved into the mini-grid ownership model and the respective roles of the community and private sector in its implementation as well as the importance of integrating energy access initiatives with the development of local productive enterprises.

Participatory Market System Development, formulated by Practical Action, was proposed as a tool to identify barriers to the development of markets that is able to produce high-value energy-enabled goods and services. “This approach has implications for the future of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity,” the statement concluded.

DPR Seals Two Filling Stations in Sokoto

Business, Energy, News

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has sealed two filling stations who are major marketers in Sokoto for defying the directives issued by the Federal government for filling stations to reduce pump prices of petroleum products from N97 to N87 per litre.

According to Salihu Moriki, the Operations Controller of DPR in charge of Sokoto and Kebbi states, who spoke in Sokoto on Monday, of the 49 stations visited by the DPR in the last one weeks, only the two were found to be selling the commodity above the N87 pump price.

He added that the remaining 45 stations made of major and independent marketers and NNPC Mega stations had complied and therefore allowed to continue with their sales.

While assuring to continue with routine visits in order to ensure compliance, the Controller added that the DPR “the two filling stations will remain sealed until they comply with the order and each of them will be fined N100,000.”

He cautioned operators of the filling stations against flaunting the directives of the federal government in that line.

“We will not spare any filling station that hoards the product
or sells it above the new pump price of N87,” Moriki said.

Welcoming Smart Villages Initiative to Africa


Welcoming Smart Villages Initiative to Africa
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

“Aid cannot achieve the end of poverty – ‘only homegrown development based on the dynamism of individuals and firms in free markets can do that.” – A former World Bank economist.

Electricity is development. It is something without which development is a mirage. Very many African villages lack electricity because all African countries cannot provide this essential commodity for use by rural dwellers.

Over the years, such countries especially those without hydro dams, have concentrated electrification in urban areas. Only a very few have used the option of other energy sources to electrify the rural villages thereby expanding development.

Aimed at lifting the people out of rural poverty from the bottom up by accessing modern energy services as a catalyst for rural development, the SmartVillages Initiative led by Prof. Brian Heap, has lunched an awareness campaign on rural energy for policymakers in Eastern Africa.

The aim of SmartVillages is to bring new insights to policy makers and funding bodies at national, regional and global levels regarding rural energy access for development.

At a wider level, SmartVillages is working to promote dialogue between people in rural villages, scientists, policymakers and entrepreneurs in the countries of Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Latin America. This is to serve as rural development solutions that is catalysed by sustainable energy access.

Statistics have it that there is major energy supply shortage to the extent that over 1.3 billion people globally are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion people cook on open, smoky fires.

More than 95% of these people are either in sub-Saharan African or developing Asia and 84% are in rural areas.
Prof. Brian Heap,
Senior Scientific Advisor of Smart Villages Initiative observes that although international donors and governments were funding several projects to extend grid coverage in impoverished areas, the efforts were beset by two fundamental problems.

“They tend to take a top down approach extending outwards from existing urban or industrial hubs. But many rural communities are far from such hubs, so connection will not be feasible in the foreseeable future.

“Secondly, efforts are insufficiently ambitious, generally aiming to provide minimal levels of energy access rather than the full range of energy services needed to support development goals,” he stated.
For African countries to access technological advances in improved healthcare and basic utility provision; accessible education; increased business and entrepreneurship, accessing integrative electricity, there must be rural energy access.

It is towards ensuring integrative energy provision for African rural communities that Smart Villages Initiative organised an “Off-grid Village Energy Workshop in Arusha, Tanzania in June, 2014.

The workshop explored the East African/Tanzanian environment for village energy, local case studies, challenges and opportunities, with a view to formulating policy recommendations for policymakers, funders, NGOs and other stakeholders in the region. 

Bernie Jones, a Project Leader with Smart Villages Initiative said that the programme aims “to gather evidence from existing projects that have provided or facilitated sustainable off-grid energy solutions in the developing world.”

This is a laudable initiative, especially for most African governments which communities have remained without electricity.

With the workshops having taken place in Arusha, India, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, “the follow-up nine-month programme of engagement and dissemination activities will further strengthen governments’ understanding of the need for SmartVillages.”

This would be strengthened by a study of sustainable energy for villages ‘off-grid’ in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre at Cambridge (MCSC); Cambridge Malaysian Education and Development Trust (CMEDT) and the European Academies Science Advisory Council are undertaking, presently.

This development therefore calls for cooperation of all African nations in order to ensure that our rural villages, which would not easily be connected to grids, are connected off-grid.

“The concept of the smart village,” Prof. Heap says, “is that energy access acts as a catalyst for development – education, health, food security, productive enterprise, environment and participatory democracy.”

For every rural village in Africa and indeed, every rural village in the globe, electricity is a veritable transformative means of livelihoods and local trade.

If this Initiative is supported by African governments and rural communities, especially in a manner of Public Private Peasant Partnership (PPPP), as against Public Private Partnership (PPP) only, rural communities would actively be engaged in participatory democracy that would effect short-term changes.

Wealthy individuals, philanthropy, charitable organisations, corporate organisations in Africa and across the globe, who have various “initiatives to lift the poor out of poverty gap,” should invest in rural energy access.

Heap however observes that there is social complexity of making even simple interventions work, let alone creating a Smart Village. “Clearly, solutions are rarely simple or obvious otherwise they would have been widely adopted.”

Reliable energy source in our African villages can add value to agricultural products by allowing for mechanization, processing and storage.

Such energy source could positively impact the lives of African women farmers who produce and process 80 percent of food.

Nigeria’s First Renewable Energy Model Village was inaugurated on 25th November 2012 in Danjawa, Wammako local government area of Sokoto State by the Sokoto Energy Research Centre of Usmanu Danfodiyo University.

The system of the model village was designed to provide the energy needs of over 1,000 inhabitants. It has a 10 KW PV plant with necessary battery storage system; a 500-litre header riser type solar water; 3KW wind turbine; 100 kilo gramme solar dryers.

Aimed at providing off grid electrification, the 15 KW solar photovoltaic off grid electrification project was implemented for scientific applications such as water heating, solar water pumping and cooking purposes.

Former Director General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), Prof. Abubakar Sambo observes that the absence of sustainable energy supplies in rural communities is responsible for the marginalisation of rural dwellers.

“80 percent of the rural dwellers lack access to sufficient energy, which has made life difficult for them. Most of people in the rural area depend on wood for energy which is not environmentally friendly and causes global warming,” he said.

Concurring Heap’s position, Prof. Bashir Danshehu, Director of Sokoto Energy Research Centre, stresses that “access to energy is critical to poverty alleviation, hence the need for the development of renewable energy sources. No fewer than 70% of Sub-Saharan African population lack electricity and over 80% of this population lives in rural areas.”

Former Vice Chancellor of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Prof. Riskuwa Arabu Shehu notes that “until serious attention was given to the optimal development, utilization and security of our energy needs Nigeria would not have a productive economy.”

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe