Tag: electricity

Swings and roundabouts: Powering rural Ghana through play

Kids on the electricity-generating
Kids on the electricity-generating ‘merry-go-round’ at Pediatorkope Basic School. (Pic: Flickr/ctrilogy)

The southeastern island of Pediatorkope is one of rural Ghana’s poorest places, with most people living from farming mussels on the Volta River.

But despite being cut off from the national grid, Pediatorkope is relatively well-off compared to the capital Accra and the rest of the country when it comes to power.

How? It uses the natural energy of children to generate enough electricity to power lanterns every time they use specially adapted roundabouts.

When children play on the equipment at the Pediatorkope Basic School, their effort turns a turbine connected to a rechargeable battery that powers LED lanterns.

The children use the lanterns at home, bringing them back to the school when they need recharging, teacher Gerson Kuadegbeku told AFP. “So it is helping the students to learn.”

Kuadegbeku said the scheme – the brainchild of US-based charity Empower Playgrounds Incorporated – has been a success, allowing children to study at home, when previously it was impossible for lack of electricity.

“Formerly the performance of the children in the school was very low,” he told AFP.

Energy crisis

Ghana is in the throes of a crippling energy crisis, which is slowing down economic activity and raising fears about its effect on the emerging economy’s overall development.

Most homes receive electricity for 12 hours but can then be without power for the next 24.

The government, criticised for failing to maintain economic growth after the country began commercial oil production in 2010, recently signed new contracts with external power suppliers.

While Ghanaians wait for those new facilities to begin producing power, demand for generators is increasing.

Some businesses have threatened to leave the country for places with more regular supply. Others said they are being forced to downsize their workforce.

The main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and its supporters last month took to the streets, claiming that President John Dramani Mahama has crippled business by not resolving the problem.

“If you are running a factory and you have to power a generator before you can produce, then there’s a real problem,” said Isaac Osei, an opposition member of parliament.

Power through play

If the situation is acute in cities such as Accra, then it is even worse in rural areas, with schoolchildren among the hardest hit by the lack of electricity.

George Thompson, the project manager at Empower Playgrounds Inc., said the system was helping to improve the chances of rural children continuing their education beyond junior school.

“So far we’re in 42 schools and what we do is that any school that has… junior high, we assess them by their final year examinations,” he said.

“It has really brought improvement in the lives of these children’s education.

“All that we expect from the community is to ensure that when the kids bring these lanterns home, they (use them) to do their home studies.”

Small price to pay

A separate scheme using solar power is also running on the island, where residents pay 500 cedis (about $150) to buy a battery, which is recharged by the sun via roof panels at a “charging station”.

Local man Humphrey Teye Ayeh said he decided to enrol because of the increasing cost of kerosene previously used to provide light.

The sustainable energy system – which can be used to power electrical devices such as mobile phones – has got people more connected, he said.

For Thompson, the decision to come to Pediatorkope made sense because it would take time for the island to get onto the national grid.

“We thought it wise to come to this island and ensure that the people in this community also have a little life here,” he said.

“Our objective is not to make any money or profit from this but we need to get the system, the centre sustainable or the project sustainable, so we ask them to pay 500 Ghana cedis to be hooked up to the system and then each time they bring the battery for recharge, they pay five cedis for that.”

Solar lighting revolution underway in Sierra Leone

In the face of inadequate provision of power by the Sierra Leonean government, companies are stepping in to provide solar electricity systems that ordinary Sierra Leoneans can afford.

Since the 1980s Sierra Leone has been unable to reliably provide electricity to its citizens. Its capital Freetown, once dubbed “the world’s darkest city”, experiences daily power cuts. Outside the major cities the situation is far worse, with just one in 10 Sierra Leoneans having access to the national grid. That figure drops to 3%  in rural areas, according to government and World Bank figures.

For now in much of the country it is only the privileged few who can afford to run costly and breakdown-prone diesel generators. Instead, for light, most people rely on kerosene lamps, candles or cheaply made battery powered plastic lights shipped in from China.

But in recent years the country has embarked on something of a solar revolution – at least for lighting and mobile phone charging. Main roads in the larger towns are now lit by solar streetlights. A Laos-based firm, Sunlabob Renewable Energy, is building 13 off-grid solar plants to supply lighting to universities and other community facilities.

Up to 60 health centres now get their lighting and power some electrical equipment thanks to “solar suitcases” installed by We Care Solar, who aim to reduce maternal mortality – Sierra Leone has the world’s highest maternal mortality ratio – by lighting hospitals and clinics. Meanwhile, in February Mulk Energy won a contract to construct a 6MW solar park in Freetown, which is set to be West Africa’s largest. It aims to provide electricity to hospitals, schools, and to 3 000 households by the end of 2014.

Solar energy still supplies a small fraction of Sierra Leone’s energy needs but the Advanced Science and Innovation Company, involved in setting up the solar park, hopes that in two years time one quarter of the country’s electricity can be supplied through renewable sources.

Indigo pay-as-you-go system
But one particular project has found a way to make solar energy affordable to individual households using a pay-as-you go system. Azuri Technologies (who have partnered with rap musician Akon’s ‘Akon lighting Africa’ project) describes the product, Indigo, as “solar-as-a-service” and says it can cut energy bills by as much as 50%. To avoid the prohibitively high costs of buying the system outright, Indigo customers use scratchcards to buy it over time. They pay an initial US$12 to have the unit installed, and then 10 000 leones ($2.30) weekly for 18 months.

All those spoken to by IRIN said the Indigo lights were saving them a significant amount of money.

“Yes, we have been saving a lot,” said Aminatta, whose shop selling fabrics, a few rough cut diamonds and cigarettes remains open long after dark.

Aminatta uses an Indigo pay-as-you-go solar powered light to run her shop in Tombo village. (Pic: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN)
Aminatta uses an Indigo pay-as-you-go solar powered light to run her shop in Tombo village. (Pic: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN)

She was the first of 300 people in the fishing village of Tombo in western Sierra Leone to invest in the device. In five months her weekly payments will cease and her shop will be lit for free.

Mr Benga, also from Tombo, bought two. “Now my children can study here at night,” he told IRIN, pointing to a covered courtyard with a large Indigo LED light dangling against one wall. “I even gave one to my daughter to use in the dormitory at school.”