In Mali, a village self-funds their grid, Africa Greentec installs solar and SteamaCo brings the tech
Half the population of Africa has no access to electricity, whilst much of what electricity there is relies on antiquated diesel generators that are not only expensive and prone to failure, but highly damaging to health and to the climate. Africa GreenTec, a German start-up, is pioneering the renewable sector in Mali through the distribution of their unique Solartainers. With the entire kit packing into, and folding out of, a 40-foot container that can mount on the back of a truck, one Solartainer includes a 50 kWp photovoltaic installation and a 60 kWh battery storage system, providing and storing electricity for 4,000 people. The initiative has received strong backing from both the Malian government and community leaders. Energy is sold at less than half the price of generator electricity, and communities once dependent on diesel are gaining access to affordable, reliable, clean power, whilst also ensuring a return for investors. Solartainers can be fitted with satellite internet systems and water treatment facilities, further enhancing their benefit to rural villages.
The appetite for making the switch to solar power is evident in the story of Kaï, a village located in the south of Mali, with a population of 9,000, and until recently one of the 12,000 villages in the country without access to electricity.
In 2018, the village chief of Kaï travelled to Bamako, Mali's capital, to make an application for a Solartainer. Yet he was told that with no existing grid, there was no way that his village would be able to distribute the Solartainer's electricity. Many Malian villages have unconnected local grids, following a stalled government initiative to light up rural Mali, but Kaï did not. Unfazed, the village set about raising money for the installation of a grid. The community paid into a central fund, and money flooded in from family members who had moved away from the village, some to Bamako, some as far as Paris. It took four months to raise 40,000 euros, enough to handcraft posts from eucalyptus trees and run 7km of cable with 400 points of access. Leapfrogging the need for traditional power stations, Kaï now has a decentralised grid that has created local jobs, and produces clean, affordable energy. Cutting-edge smart grid features, provided by SteamaCo, help Africa GreenTec to regulate power use, and to provide energy as cheaply as possible by encouraging consumers to prioritise energy use during the day. At the beginning of 2019, the Solartainer began providing internet access to Kaï.
Africa GreenTec is in conversation with German development banks about finding ways of financing grids for other villages that lack them. The company is currently raising funds for a total of fifty Solartainers: enough to bring power to another 200,000 people. By 2030, the aim is to be providing clean energy and water to three million people on the continent. Having crowd-funded their first units, at the end of 2017 the company group released a 10 million euro bond directed at professional investors, and which has already been partly funded.
The founders, Torsten and Aida Schreiber, believe they can address one of the root causes of the migrant crisis through their work, and in this goal the company has found support from the German government. After Europe's exploitation of the global South, says Torsten, it is time to give something back. Access to reliable, affordable electricity, as well as to other basic needs, he believes, will discourage people in leaving for Europe – some of those very same people who raised the funds to send home for Kaï's grid. Instead, the Solartainers are bringing new opportunities for keeping money and skills within the local economy, and providing a brighter future much closer to home.