Monthly Archives: November 2015

Testimonial from Mou Riiny in South Sudan

My exodus from South Sudan as a boy amid war and my chance to return as a man to help my countrymen has been a journey of a lifetime, and I am still a young man.

The IEEE Smart Village Initiative – meaning, the people who make it the positive force that it is – has played a significant role in my ability to bring a change to my former village of Thiou in South Sudan. I’d like to tell that part of my story.

Sudan was torn apart by civil war in the 1970s and again in the 1980s. In the latter conflict, tens of thousands of boys, including me, fled the war and possible conscription as combatants. We walked hundreds of miles over months to reach crowded refugee camps in neighboring Kenya. Half of my compatriots died along the way. The survivors remained there for years. In 2000, the U.S. State Department relocated perhaps 4,000 of us to the U.S. and I grew up in foster families in Massachusetts.

Guided by a teacher, I studied math and engineering, eventually becoming a student at the University of San Diego (USD), where I graduated with an electrical engineering degree in 2011 – the same year that South Sudan became recognized as its own country.

By then I’d met Ron Moulton, director of a group known as Village Help for South Sudan, and learned of something called the Thiou Village Project. As part of a senior project at USD, I traveled with several American classmates to Thiou to install solar panels, inverters and provide battery packs that could recharge portable batteries to power lights, radios, laptops and other portable electronic devices. My old school was the first project. People actually walked for miles to see me to turn on the first lights ever seen in Thiou!

This work led me to attend several international conferences, where I met other people working on similar goals. In 2011 I attended the first IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC) in Seattle. In 2012, at the Power Africa conference in Johannesburg, I met many people affiliated with the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative (CSI), including Ray Larsen, Mike Wilson, Martin Niboh and Patrick Lee, and they introduced me to the CSI’s entrepreneur-based business model. I returned to Seattle for the second IEEE GHTC, where I met Robin Podmore, who also expressed interest in my background and the work we were doing in Thiou.

Having completed the initial work in Thiou with support from the Village Help for South Sudan Project, I presented a paper, “South Sudan Rural Electrification Project,” at IEEE’s 2013 Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC) in San Jose, Calif. The entire group of CSI volunteers encouraged me to adopt its entrepreneur-based business model. (As you may know, the CSI morphed into IEEE Smart Village Initiative.) This led to further work for me in South Sudan, but as an entrepreneur.

Under that model, I formed a company called SunGate and we are now working in three states in South Sudan, one of which includes my original home in Thiou. We are building solar charging stations and distributing battery packs to those who need them. At this point, we have provided nearly 1,000 battery packs to homes with maybe six people each, so we’ve affected change for nearly 10,000 people. At first, of course, many people did not even realize what electricity is or can do. In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, only a fraction of the people has electricity for a few hours each day. Outside the city limits there is no grid. So it takes time for villagers to grasp the benefits, but as many are getting radios and cell phones, they get it.

Now we are introducing these innovative systems, and their excitement is overwhelming. They have a saying there that “we should bring the town to the people, not the people to the town,” so bringing electricity to them with a solar home kit, for instance, makes their home into a town. Many villagers want to rent a portable battery for their home so their children can read at night, but others are taking them to more remote villages to charge $1 for cell phone charging and they can make perhaps $150 per month, as long as they return to us to charge the batteries.

When I was growing up in Thiou, very few of us went to school. Today, most children go to school. So at night, the mother has light to cook by, the father and the children can read, and it has a bit of status to it – having a lit home. Education will be improved this way, and side businesses are made possible.

In the future, well, these people already know about refrigerators and televisions and they’ve asked whether we can power them. And I say “Well, it’s coming down the line. No problem. Let’s get this working, and we’ll bring the next-generation renewable-energy technology.” So they’re already asking. But we have a bottleneck. The solar technology we need is not available in South Sudan. The traditional means has been diesel-powered generators, which are noisy, dirty, expensive and they break down.

Solar-based electricity is a great solution. Kerosene makes poor light and it’s dirty. I’m confident we can scale up what we’re doing to help reach the IEEE Smart Village goal of 50 million people in 10 years. Personally, I can say “thank you.” All this would not have been possible if Robin had not contacted me and pulled me into the Smart Village project. I have been able to find other opportunities elsewhere because IEEE introduced me to the innovative business model and system design for bringing electricity to energy-poor people. We took it and we ran with it, and so I give thanks to IEEE.

GHTC 2015 & IEEE Smart Village Workshop – Presentation Materials

SmartVillage_FinalLogo_2On Oct. 8, IEEE Smart Village hosted a workshop at the IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC) in Seattle.

GHTC is a global humanitarian technology conference focused on bringing together people to address the critical issues for the benefit of the resource-constrained and vulnerable populations in the world. It is an opportunity for IEEE to work with NGOs to identify the most pressing needs.

GHTC_Logo-bigThe workshop focused on bringing together IEEE Smart Village collaboration members to discuss global sustainable initiative progress and to identify paths forward to expand operations globally as a Signature Program of the IEEE Foundation.

Here are the presentation materials available for download (click to download):

IEEE Smart Village – Workshop AGENDA for October 8 2015 – Ray Larsen (Word document)

IEEE Smart Village – India New Initiatives in Utar Pradesh & Gujarat – Ray Larsen (PDF document)

IEEE Smart Village – Update of TBF-IEEE SV Partnership – Cameroon – Martin Niboh (PDF document)

IEEE Smart Village – KiloWatts for Humanity/Lichi Community Solutions – Likonge Makai Mulenga (PowerPoint file)

IEEE Smart Village – Human Rights Panel Session – Podmore – Wessner – Fodio (PowerPoint file)

IEEE Smart Village – GVEP Presentation Nigeria – Ifeanya Orajaka – Chuka Eze (PowerPoint file)

IEEE Smart Village – Global Himalayan Expedition – Ladakh India – Paras Loomba (PDF document)

IEEE Smart Village – Fundraising Committee Overview – Michael Deering (PDF document)

IEEE Smart Village – Energy Eduation Empowerment – GTTC Session – Larsen Podmore Wessner (PDF document)

IEEE Smart Village – Deployment Configurations – Robin Podmore (PowerPoint file)

IEEE Smart Village – Community Empowerment & Technology – Ray Larsen (PDF document)


Testimonial of Paras Loomba in India

This past August, an international cast of volunteers, including IEEE members, helped bring a solar-powered microgrid to Shingo, an ancient village nestled in Hemis National Park in the high-elevation Rumbak Valley of Ladakh, under the banner of my organization, Global Himlayan Expeditions. This locale is in farthest northern India, where the Kuen Lun mountains meet the Himalayas.

The IEEE Smart Village Initiative has supported my mission and we are currently formalizing ties between us so that we can move forward on our next project to bring electricity to another village in remote Ladakh.

Getting the equipment there required a score of volunteers from Denmark, Peru, Oman, Singapore, India, Germany, Kenya and the United States to march for three days out of Leh, India, crossing 16,500-foot Gandala Pass en route. The first night in Shingo we spent in darkness as we designed the system for the various households. From the second night onward, we had light – the first-ever, sustainable electric-powered light to grace this remote valley, where snow leopards still roam.

Rural, DC-powered microgrids provide an excellent, environmentally friendly alternative for off-grid communities with low capital investment and ease-of-setup. These systems range from 250 watts (W) to 500 W in capacity and provide basic, LED-based lighting and recharging devices to perhaps 30-40 families each.
The business model is equally flexible. These microgrids can be operated by a designated village entrepreneur or cooperative, village-based group that collects monthly rental fees from each household. To sustain operations, the village entrepreneur or the group’s designee is trained to perform technical maintenance during microgrid downtime.

In the entrepreneur model, the entrepreneur pays off the system over two to three years to eventually own the system. Or the group collects monthly fees into a village development account, which is used for local economic development and future maintenance of the microgrid.

The villagers use electricity to gain access to education, healthcare and create livelihoods in exchange for a monthly rental fee or in-kind services to fellow villagers, depending on the locally chosen business model. To create a DC-based device ecosystem, we have also designed 6W BLDC fans and modified DC LED TVs.
The lights and amenities powered by the microgrid enable villagers to host foreign trekkers passing through Shingo, a vital rest stop for those headed up west towards Zanskar or north towards Markha Valley. Trekkers will pay to stay in local homes, supporting sustainable economic development. We are expect this will increase income to at least 20,000 rupees (about $306 USD) per family each tourist season.
Last year, we brought a similar electrification system to the 11th century village of Sumda Chenmo, also in Ladakh, also under the banner of GHE.

It may be difficult for outsiders to appreciate the potential revolution such systems could provide. India has the world’s second-largest population but 70 percent live in rural areas, most without any access to the country’s electric grid. Extending the grid to regions with low population and potentially low electric loads is capital intensive, time-consuming and, ultimately, may not make sense in terms of investment priorities. The falling cost of solar panels, the efficacy of a small, DC-based microgrid and ease-of-setup and use make our solution both “do-able” and increasingly popular.

In terms of design, the microgrids have centralized solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and lead-acid battery storage, the latter sized to provide two days’ electricity without recharging. This configuration can serve numerous households, each with 7.5 watts(W) loads, within 100-150 meters of the solar panels/storage devices. Households are connected to power via 2.5 millimeter (mm) copper wire and each has two 3W LED bulbs (6W) and one mobile device charging point (1.5W). The microgrid operates for six hours after sunset and one hour before sunrise.

Testimonial of Ifyeani Orajaka from Nigeria

Ifeanyi Orajaka, CEO, Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Ltd.

A Recap and Update as of February 2016:

IEEE Smart Village, a long time program partner of GVE Projects, Ltd., Nigeria, commissioned 37Kw PV micro-utility in the village of Bisanti last October. This is the single largest mini-grid system to be developed in Nigeria, and the first of three 10% IEEE Smart Village seed-funded projects in Nigeria. The second and third micro-utility stations are scheduled to open late February.

Each system provides energy access to 200+ households and 25+ small and medium sized enterprises along with installation of extensive market-center street lighting. GVE is now in discussions with the Bank of Industry Nigeria to secure the capital allowing continue expansion this year into more villages. GVE reached an understanding with the Nigerian Ministry of Energy protecting it’s projects with exclusive territorial rights for their microgrid programs.

Below is a personal account from Ifeanyi on his work in Nigeria.

Business is going strong for my company, GVE Projects, Ltd., here in Nigeria. This summer, we signed a memo of understanding (MOU) with Nigeria’s Bank of Industry for a long-term loan of more than $675,000 USD at single-digit interest rates. IEEE Smart Village will provide GVE with $65,535.20 USD in matching funds as part of a seed-funding program.

At this point we have deployed a total capacity of 24 kilowatts (kW) of off-grid electricity at three sites. In the current phase of our work, we are deploying an additional 72 kW of capacity for off-grid communities across the country. The first phase of the new contract is nearly complete and it probably has been commissioned by the time you read these remarks.

From the pilot projects we have deployed, our business model has proven sustainable and scalable. Our fee structure is designed to give customers the best service at the lowest possible rate, making off-grid electricity provision reliable and affordable. Our ultimate goal, with the Bank of Industry’s financing and the support of IEEE Smart Village, is to light 200,000 homes to serve a million people over the next five years.

This ambitious plan will sustain GVE Projects, Ltd., if all goes well. One of our major drivers has been the satisfaction we take in creating value and the socio-economic uplift in the lives of the indigenes of our host communities. We are agents of change, for the common good. I asked one of my customers to describe the impact of reliable, affordable electricity on his life. How did he light his home at night? How did he charge cell phone batteries?

He told us:
“Before now, we relied on basic local means like kerosene lanterns, candles and, at rare times, ‘I pass my neighbor’ generators to provide light. Normally, we would go to the village market center to pay and charge our phones. Since GVE came in, these are struggles of the past.

“Before now, I spent about 450 naira (about $2.25 USD) daily for three liters of fuel, but now I spend about 200 naira for better value. I have longer hours of electricity, without generator noise and fumes. My children can read in the evening, after school. I do not travel to charge my cell phone, which allows me to spend more business hours at my shop. The benefits are so many to count. Compared to how much I spent on fuel and alternative sources before GVE came to our community, the service is really affordable.”

Our business and the positive impacts we’re having on off-grid communities in Nigeria has been made possible through my own membership and participation in IEEE and the support we have received from the Smart Village Initiative. My colleagues and I are grateful for IEEE’s support, which began when we were merely young students with lofty ideas for an energy access revolution in West Africa. And we are honored to be ambassadors for IEEE wherever we go.

I joined IEEE in 2009 as a student member and had the good fortune to lead a team that won an Outstanding Student Humanitarian Prize in the inaugural IEEE Presidents’ Change the World Competition that year for our “Project Spread the Light: Provide Electricity in a Small Settlement.” IEEE Executive Director Jim Prendergast personally alerted me to the Humanitarian Technology Network, which I joined, as it meshed with the objectives of my team’s project.

This led me to join the Community Solutions Initiative, which became today’s IEEE Smart Village Initiative, and to present papers at international IEEE conferences, including regular attendance at the annual IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference.

IEEE’s support provided me with credibility and led to collaboration with other organizations, such as the U.S.’s African Development Foundation that sponsors the Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge. Upon an invitation from the U.S. Department of State I attended the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

All of these factors contributed to the success of GVE and the credibility that GVE and its collaborators brought to our application to Nigeria’s Bank of Industry.

As with other start-ups, the process of establishing such a business has not always been rosy. We have encountered critical challenges, including severe financial constraints. We have made sacrifices. But the families we empower have been supportive and have bought into our dreams.

Now, on a daily basis, we are applying the electrical engineering education we learned at university as well as the experience we’ve earned through our field deployments, as well as through the support of IEEE PES, the IEEE Smart Village Initiative and the international conferences we have been enabled to attend. Today, GVE Projects, Ltd., has become one of the most well-known renewable energy providers in Nigeria.