Author: Kresten Kjær Sørensen

Solar Energy for laptops in rural schools in Rwanda

Three hundred primary and secondary schools in Rwanda have been connected to electricity thanks to the IREA-RPPP-project and the support provided by the ACP-EU Energy Facility. Rwanda has set an ambitious target of one laptop pr. child in its educational system. For many rural schools this poses a challenge: How to power laptops, when your school is not connected to electricity? The solution offered by the project is solar energy and today more than two hundred thousand children go to schools that has electricity.

The project “Increased Renewable Energy Access in Rwanda through Public Private Partnerships” (IREA-RPPP) was initially designed to boost energy access through both solar- and hydropower. In the first year, the project components were split: the major hydropower projects became part of a Belgian supported hydropower-programme, and the purely EU-funded component focused mainly on off-grid solar energy. In this way, synergies were optimised between the development partners and the Rwandan government.

IREA-RPPP employed a very thorough selection process requiring that the schools targeted for support match several criteria: most importantly, they should be off-grid without the likelihood for grid connection for several years to come, so distance to the existing grid was important. Also, a certain number of students was required to maximise impact, and a necessary quality of buildings was needed to minimise theft of cables, outlets and lightbulbs. It was also important that school staff showed interest in and motivation to maintain the systems.

The technical design was adapted to the context: the condition of rural school buildings can be varied, they can be located at different orientations to the sun, and with a staff that has different levels of capacity and interest in technical maintenance. Systems were therefore placed within a fenced perimeter at the school premises with the panels mounted on a rack, inclined to their optimal position towards the sun, and with inverters, regulators and batteries placed in a small ventilated building below them.

This design resolves issues of finding suitable location for the panels and other equipment. The choice of lithium-ion batteries, the high energy capacity of the systems and the overall high quality of equipment and installations has meant that very few maintenance issues had risen even after several years of use. The large bulk of the systems will have a long lifetime before batteries or inverters needs to be replaced.

As a result of the project, the 300 schools use laptops in class and teachers have better work condition due to electricity access in the school. Some schools have even started to exploit systems in new ways using it to power computers and overhead projectors, loud speakers for communal singing, supply nearby buildings with electricity and offer services like hair cutting for children.

Flagship project for the development of Renewable Energies in Cote d’Ivoire

The Zanzan region is located in north-eastern Cote d’Ivoire, which is a zone with sporadic electricity network coverage in comparison with other regions of the country. Without electricity, there is no public lighting, no freezers, no radios or televisions. The local inhabitants have made use of kerosene lamps and battery-operated torches for lighting the home, at an excessive cost for such a poor population.

Thanks to the support of the European Union, the NGO Delegation Fondation Akwaba and their Spanish technical partner Azimut 360 has installed photovoltaic mini-grids in 7 isolated villages in the region of Zanzan. This project, is an innovative first step in the field of solar mini-grids in Cote d’Ivoire.

Several technical solutions were implemented to guarantee that electricity demands could be met through the mini-grids: 1) distribution losses were minimised and the system design ensured adequate capacity for generation and storage; 2) the mini-grid installations are equipped with a diesel generator that automatically kicks in when the batteries reach a defined minimum, thereby reducing the energy storage requirements to provide a 24-hour service; 3) the application of a business model that makes use of smart meters that automatically interrupt the electricity supply when clients consume more than their pre-defined daily limits.

Based on this technical design and with the financial support of the EU and other donors, all 7 villages have access to electricity 24/7, providing the first reliable solar electricity supply in the country. The quality of life of inhabitants have been improved in several respects: socially, particularly in the evening due to public lighting; economically as a result of business development activities, the return of the youth to the village etc.

The change in living conditions after the implementation of the mini-grids was fundamental, as expressed by Adengra Moîs Kouadio, from Kapé village:

‘Life before electricity is not comparable with life today. We used to be blind, now we can see’.

An integrated approach to energy access in Malawi

The Msamala Sustainable Energy project was implemented in the Balaka district in Malawi, a rural and poor area. In this area, deforestation, inadequate access to energy at the household level, and unsustainable use of charcoal and firewood pose a great challenge. Therefore, the project included a number of components to reduce the demand for fire wood, increase the sustainable supply of wood, and retrain those in the value chain that were earning a living from charcoal production. The project also incorporated the production and sale of improved cook stoves, established literacy and village savings circles, and installed solar panels in 20 schools where forestry clubs were also set up.
The objective of the project was to improve sustainable access to and use of energy. A holistic approach was adopted by the project and it proved to be a success. The approach was innovative in terms of integrating environmental management, energy, education, and income-generation.
By the end of the project, there was a 25% increase in forest cover in the area and 13 participatory forestry management plans had been developed. To tackle deforestation, the Village Natural Resources Management Committees were trained to map the forest, manage its resources and introduce and enforce by-laws to prevent illegal felling. Furthermore, 24,359 stoves were sold to households and 8 to institutions in the area. Over 1,850 adults passed national literacy tests as a result of the project.

In December 2016, The Energy Facility monitoring team visited the project site in Malawi. The most significant result is that the various activities are being continued by the communities in Balaka 4 years after the project implementation officially ended. With the help of carbon credits, the communities have been able to generate additional income from the production of stoves to develop their local infrastructure.

For more information on the Energy Facility projects, please visit the ACP-EU Energy Facility Database.

Solar kits and microfinancing

The objective of the “Micresol” project was to reduce poverty among rural populations in two regions of Burkina Faso through sustainable and affordable access to electricity services. The project consisted of two separate parts: part 1 and part 2.
– Part 1 included the dissemination of 1.000 solar kits – Solar Home Systems – in the Central and Eastern region of Burkina Faso by means of micro-financing;
– Part 2 included the development of a rural electrification strategy for renewable energy in the Northern region of Burkina Faso.

Especially part 1 proved to be successful in promoting renewable energy amongst the rural communities. The populations in rural areas uses a lot of energy, but they rarely have the means to invest in cost- and energy efficient solutions like a good quality solar home system. Many people don’t have much trust in these kinds of products, because they have negative past experiences with poor quality solar kits. However, drawing from the experiences of a previous pilot project, the Micresol project partners found a successful model consisting of:

– good quality subsidized solar kits;
– a flexible and adaptable business model;
– favorable payment terms through a local financing institution;
– free repair and replacement services by a local business in the installment period.

This model was not successful in the beginning of the project implementation period. The local communities had to gradually adjust and gain confidence in the solar kits through word of mouth. But when the first clients were happy, more and more people joined the scheme, and today the demand for, and the interest in, this green and energy efficient solution is fast increasing.

For more information on the Energy Facility projects, please visit the ACP-EU Energy Facility Database.

The success of hydropower

With the aim of addressing economic growth, social improvement and poverty reduction, the Mwenga project “Mwenga 3 MW Hydro Power Plant” was directed at improving the access to sustainable and reliable energy in fourteen villages in the rural areas of Tanzania. Specifically, the project was to build and operate a 4MW hydro-power ‘run of river’ facility, which would provide electricity to the village, the local tea industry and the national grid.

The construction of the hydro power plant and the distribution network were delayed by nearly two years due to much longer approval processing time than anticipated. However, the project implementation continued for parts of the projects which either had obtained approval or where no approvals were needed, for example preparation of access roads and outline of the power lines and stocking building materials. This pro-active measure ensured that the construction was ready to commence as soon as approvals/permits were obtained.

In March 2016, the ACP-EU Energy Facility Monitoring team conducted a site visit to monitor the impact of the project and provide recommendations for future use. The team learned that the Hydro Power Plant had been constructed with a technical design that according to nearly three years of operation is considered to be in line with expectations and calculations. The number of connections started out by being lower than expected, but a steadily increasing number of applications from new customers indicate the popularity and the affordability of connections.

The project has had a special focus on providing all schools with electricity and this apparently helps retain the high qualified and best teachers, and hence it is expected that the educational level and students’ performance over years will improve. The active involvement and participation at the local level through the constitution of village “electricity committees” are likely to have ensured a sense of local ownership to the project. Through these committees the collection of information related to the power line routing and providing information through project awareness dissemination has effectively supported the project management.

The 2nd phase of the project is currently being implemented. The project entitled “Mwenga Hydro Rural Network Extension into the Kihansi Basin” aims to expand the existing Mwenga Rural Network into the neighbouring Kihansi Basin, in order to supply 17 villages with clean renewable energy. By building and operating additional 204 km of new power-lines, it is expected that this extension exercise will result in approximately 3000 + new rural connections within the first 20 months of commercial operation.

The Mwenga actions serve as good demonstration projects for private sector involvement in the energy sector. The Government of Tanzania is promoting further involvement of private investment in this sector and the Mwenga case can serve well in this context.

Let the machines do the work!

An innovative project in Benin to help rural citizens with laborious agricultural tasks was successfully implemented due to an effective way of selecting capable operators as well as the use of locally produced equipment. ”SETUP: Services Energétiques et Techniques à Usage Productif au Bénin” aimed to solve a practical problem. The processing of agricultural products has traditionally been performed with hard physical labor, mostly performed by women. One example is the task of molding corn for daily meals which requires much effort from women in rural areas of Benin. This project installed 26 multifunctional platforms. Each platform consists of a building with a large room where an engine powers agro-processing equipment, such as a corn mill and an oil press. Neighboring farmers can bring their produce, pay a fee for using the machines, and efficiently let the machine do the work previously performed with physical labor. To find the right people to operate the platforms, the project organized a grand competition in cooperation with the local municipalities in order to select the best associations and private entrepreneurs. In addition, much equipment was produced by local artisans. This has made it much easier for local technicians to handle repairs afterwards. Five years after the platforms were installed, most are still in use. The clever setup, with the availability of local technicians to handle repairs and qualified operators, has resulted in a sustainable project where operators have seen new opportunities and expanded their businesses, farmers have gained vital access to expensive machinery, and the burden of some physical labor has been lifted off the shoulders of rural women.

The ACP-EU Energy Facility’s suport to innovation led to greater things


The EU Energy Facility funded project ”Catalysing modern energy service delivery to marginal communities in Southern Africa” started in 2008 with the aim to improve access to modern energy services and renewable technologies in rural areas of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In Malawi, this was the first step to exploiting the large energy potential that is available from the water sources on Mount Mulanje.

The specific project in Malawi took place in the Mulanje district, an area in the southern part of Malawi known for its fertile soil and beautiful mountains. The topography of Mulanje, highly suitable for hydropower due to its many streams and rivers, inspired Practical Action to develop a model for a community-managed hydropower scheme for the community of Bondo. Based on the pilot phase that was supported by the ACP-EU Energy Facility, Practical Action and the local community of Bondo realized that the sustainability of the scheme was at risk due to the lack of technical and professional capacity in the local community and to the low demand profile of households included in the first phase.

To overcome this, the project was expanded in scope to provide access to more households performing a variety of social and economic activities. Today, the Mulanje Electricity Generation Agency (MEGA) is non-profit social enterprise with the goal of being financially sustainable while offering affordable energy to rural costumers as widely as possible. MEGA sold the first units of electricity in January 2016 and have supported business customers in making use of the electricity and accessing finance. Close coordination between with the purpose-organised Village Electricity Committee and tribal chiefs helps guide and prioritise investments, and promotes a sense of ownership in the community. In its current phase, the project will bring clean, renewable energy to:

  • 1 health centre serving a population of over 22,000 people
  • 4 schools serving at least 1,500 students as well as enabling evening classes for adult learning
  • 3,000 people in 600 households with direct connections to the mini-grids
  • business and private initiatives (currently 32 customers with various income generating activities)

The MEGA that is now in place has been successful due to the lessons learned from the initial innovative phase supported by the ACP-EU Energy Facility. The approach adopted was to bring renewable energy to the local people and to empower through skills development to manage the provision of energy to their communities. MEGA now has the capacity to forecast needs and plan for them, manage the finances of the scheme, oversee operations and maintenance, and monitor consumption.

Thanks to the initial support to this innovative project provided by the ACP-EU Energy Facility and the continued commitment of The Scottish Government, the Global Environment Facility, DfID Practical Action at not least the local communities, approximately 20,000 people are benefiting from access to renewable energy in the Mulanje region.  For more information about MEGA, please visit

Simple measures for improving livelihood


A recently completed EU project in Mozambique focused on improving the access to clean energy in two districts in Mozambique. The project was implemented by ADPP and the objective was to provide solar lanterns to rural households, reaching 18,000 people and thereby facilitate education of children, provide better illumination and a smoke-free indoor environment for women to do household chores.
Project activities included selection of locations for establishment of 40 LaBL (“Lighting a Billion Lives”) stations; installation and running of 40 LaBL stations, formation and strengthening of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and entrepreneurs.
The project has demonstrated how simple PV-systems and a simple business model can create longer term impacts in rural areas without electricity. The product and the business model have been developed in India, and ADPP was the first organisation to introduce the concept in Mozambique. The project was small in terms of budget, because no new buildings were to be constructed. The solar panels are simply placed close to an existing home, which hereby becomes a LaBL station with a local operator in charge of renting out lanterns to local users.
The charging stations have now been operating successfully for approximately three years with a high percentage of lanterns being rented out each day.
The LaBL approach implemented in this project is relevant and provides a good example for other projects in providing access to better sources of light. The project has succeeded in creating a sustained impact based on testimonies from users. The high level of attention given to post-installation follow-up is likely to be one of the main reasons for this success. The lack of a local market for spare parts is one of the main challenges for the technology promoted in this project, as it is in most other EF-funded projects. In this case, however, the technology promoted is so simple that it should be possible to produce these spare parts locally and create the supply to match the demand that is already there.

Implementing body: ADPP (Ajuda de Desenvolvimento de Povo para Povo)

For more information on the Energy Facility projects, please visit the ACP-EU Energy Facility Database.