All posts by Daniel Estes

PowerAfrica 2018 Celebrates ISV Volunteer Ngeh Ernest Bach

Ngeh Ernest Bach and his family come from a remote village in the Northwest region of Cameroon called Njap where he grew up with little to no access to basic electricity. Ngeh recalls his first time in a bigger town where he was amazed with the presence of electricity. To put it in perspective, according to 2014 World Bank data, Cameroon’s electricity access reached more than 88% of the population in urban areas, while in it only reached 22.2% in rural areas. Growing up with no basic electricity has triggered his desire to learn about technology and propelled him to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. The lack of electricity in his village pushed him to explore the applications of renewable energy that he is currently involved with in KONENE, ILUNG, ADERER, ABUH AND AKEH, all off grid communities.

Ngeh understood early on that in order to make a real impact, he needed to meet the right people and network to help guide his vision. In 2013, in his final years of the electrical engineering program, he was selected by the Tourchbearer Foundation which is funded by the IEEE Smart Village program. The team was tasked to carry out a test on portable battery kit systems for off-grid home lighting solutions. The summer of 2016 presented a great opportunity to Ngeh when he was selected to be an IEEE Smart Village Scholar and participate in workshops at the 3rd annual IEEE PES PowerAfrica Conference in Livingstone, Zambia. The scholarship to the conference prepared him with the right tools to learn and share experiences on what it takes to develop a renewable energy supported mini-grid system to communities like Njap.

In 2017, Ngeh would return back to the 4th IEEE PES-IAS PowerAfrica conference in Accra, Ghana as a Smart Village scholar where he presented on feasibility studies suitable for solar power plant installation and general troubleshooting. Among the most notable experiences at the PowerAfrica Conference, Ngeh highlights the opportunity to network with other like-minded professionals. At the workshop, he learned about current energy and power research programs and the latest developments in the renewable energy sector. He continues to add that sharing his experiences with others gave has given him an opportunity to develop as a leader and to learn about the amazing work that was and continues to be accomplished in his network.

Today, Ngeh is a practicing Electrical Engineer and giving back to Torchbearer Foundation on IEEE Smart Village solar electrification project as a volunteer. He recently fulfilled his dream of bringing access to electricity to his village and we couldn’t pass the chance to ask him about the project. Here is our conversation:

Tell us about your project. What was the motivation and the initial feedback from the beneficiaries of the project?

My motivation for working on an impactful project is personal. Having lived in a community that had little to no access to electricity, the difficulties I faced to carry out my studies were unbearable. Not only did this affect me, but this problem affected the community at large. It is difficult to have access to healthcare and other services that depend on electricity. These hardships inspired me to identify and develop practical solutions for communities that face similar challenges. I dreamed of providing electricity in communities so that children can avoid facing the same hardships in school and people can have access to basic medical care.

 

I am constantly working on my goals of building solutions to the lack of electricity in many poor villages who are unable to produce political barons who can advocate for the national grid extension to their community. I share my experiences and knowledge with the people in my community. In the domain of education, I trained 20 solar technicians that all hail from off-grid remote villages in Cameroon. These solar technicians are now working in their communities to manage small solar stations. I managed the construction of three solar power stations which distribute the produced energy on a low voltage line with capacities of 10kw, 6kw and 1.2kw respectively, thereby creating direct and indirect impacts on over 25,000 people. Currently, I am in the process of constructing three 6kw solar power plants in three off-grid communities and three 2kw mobile power plants for agriculture (MPPA) that will be used in off-grid communities for grain crushing and irrigation which is also funded by the IEEE Smart Village Program.

 

Tell us about the community, a rough assessment of its electricity coverage and people’s access to electricity.

Among the communities that have solar energy, about 45% of people in the community I have electrified have access to direct electricity. Barbershops, convenience stores, computer labs, administrative offices, clinics, and money transfer services are among theservices that utilize the energy source and services which benefit the community directly.

 

How is the project running so far? What is the future? How sustainable is it or how can it improve in its sustainability efforts?

Despite the challenges of lighting damaging the equipment, the technical parts of the project have been running successfully. My hope is that the costs associated with solar equipment decrease quickly so that we can cover more villages. Sustainability has been the major challenge due to high costs of solar equipment, and depreciation of solar materials such as batteries. Due to battery cost and its life depreciation, this greatly affects the cost of electric bills which makes it difficult for the common user in the community to afford. To replace solar panels, depreciation of the battery means that the bill is higher than that given by the national grid. This financial challenge makes it difficult for the larger population to gain access to solar electricity. Those who can afford to use solar power sometimes do so to generate income and use it only to their advantage. To prevent the monopolization of this resource and to serve a larger population, the cost of materials need to drop and policies must be implemented to ensure regulation of energy distribution.

 

Communities must achieve different milestones to attain sustainability in energy. I believe that without the development of battery technology life cycles, maintenance of equipment, and reduction of battery costs, it will be an uphill battle to provide sustainable solutions for the communities.

What were some of the greatest challenges in doing your project and how have you tackled them?

 

The most notable challenge that my team and I experienced during the project was in securing reliable transportation to move the solar equipment to the villages. Poorly maintained roads or lack of reliable transportation meant that by the time the equipment arrived at the village, there was a possibility that the equipment was totally damaged. Members of the community volunteered to transport the equipment from the point where the cars could not proceed. The volunteers transported the equipment by hand and walked long distances. This challenge delayed the execution time of the project. Additionally, the cost of equipment has been a huge burden since it limited the capacity of power stations. This also prevented the team from meeting the needs of the people who have limited electricity.

What is your message to all IEEE students, members and volunteers across Africa and globally who plan to join the PowerAfrica Conference 2018?

The PowerAfrica Conference has served as an eye opener for me in solving the energy problem on the continent. Through its medium of workshops, info sessions, networking, donors, and investors, it has helped me realizemy vision of becoming a leader in providing energy in my community.

 

 

Cameroon Demonstrates ISV Three Pillars

As of March, 2018, Igniting Africa’s solar energy program is now operational in three villages in Northwest Cameroon. These include a 10KW, a 4.8KW and a 1.2KW power station in Konene, Ilung and Adere villages. Before the advent of power in these communities, life was tough for the villages, especially the youth. With the reliable energy source, there are benefits that extend well beyond the initial business opportunity.

Entrepreneurship: The availability of reliable power has enabled local employment opportunities for the young men and women of the community.  For example, in all three villages, a haircut was usually done with scissors and razor blades. Those villagers who did not like to have a haircut that way had to travel over 28 Km to the nearest town with grid electricity. Prior to the ISV micro-grid, petrol generators were used on market days for shaving but the cost and time constraints did not make things easy. Sitting for a manual haircut is not only uncomfortable but also time consuming and expensive. Today, all three villages have hair care saloons which have drastically changed the situation. This has created employment opportunities for 7 young people in these three villages. For these young Cameroonians, their lives are now more enjoyable and productive with the presence of reliable solar power in their communities.

In times past, shops would close by sundown due to the lack of electricity for lighting. The situation has completely changed since the coming of solar power. Today, shops owners operate up till 10 PM. This has led to increased sales and income for shop owners.

With lights also, most villagers stay around the market square late into the night giving a different social dynamic to village life.

Education: The solar power plants of Igniting Africa serve as practical training grounds for students of the Igniting Africa School of Christ-like Humanitarian Entrepreneurship as well as students from local universities that do not have electricity laboratories. At the power station, the students, typically drawn from poor rural communities, learn what’s most needed in their community like domestic house wiring, solar installation and maintenance, solar water pumping and irrigation, and energy entrepreneurship.

This training is a tuition free, work study program tailored to make education accessible to the rural poor. Igniting Africa’s solar stations are managed by graduates of this training program. Thus, the solar stations offer direct job opportunities to some youth.

Energy:  With the availability of energy, information can now reach the village through satellite television.  It is now common practice for most of the villagers to gather in shops that have satellite TV to be informed about what is happening in Cameroon and around the world.

So, the villages that were very enclaved in terms of information are now abreast with current news thanks to the presence of solar power that enables them to watch satellite TV, build social networks that reinforce the benefits of education, and support each other.

IEEE Awards $1.2 Million for Off-Grid Energy Entrepreneurs

PISCATAWAY, NJ – IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization advancing technology for humanity, announced that IEEE Smart Village (ISV) has granted $1.2 million in new funds for selected sustainable energy projects with a potential life-changing impact on up to seven million people around the world. ISV, an IEEE Foundation Priority Initiative, is dedicated to promoting sustainable energy and access to educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in energy-impoverished locations around the world. The funded projects are in Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, India, and Papua New Guinea.

The projects leverage technology to better the lives of the communities where the systems are located. This year’s projects include AC and DC solar powered micro-grids; a next generation portable battery kit that will provide lighting for extremely remote homes; local computer servers and an intra-net delivery system to enable a low-cost curriculum in the local schools; long range Wi-Fi that will allow some locations to tap into the World Wide Web; and one project will include a portable food press that will allow the villagers to process food for better year-round nutrition and be an income source for their families.

Previously funded ISV’s projects have directly impacted more than 70,000 people and have proven ISV’s business model, which is based on community empowerment, education, and business ownership. Using the base of IEEE global volunteers, the ISV program brings together experienced engineers, educators, volunteers, and donors to provide initial funding to launch, sustain, and develop clean energy and to power advanced education systems. The goal is to empower communities to meet their own long-term needs. ISV is scaling its efforts to bring basic electrical services that help enable transformational opportunities and support community wellbeing – from homes to schools to clinics to businesses – such efforts are expected to benefit more than 50 million people by 2025.

“All over the world, hundreds of millions of people in remote villages lack basic access to electricity,” said Ray Larsen, co-chair of the ISV program. “IEEE Smart Village aims to make a big impact. Clean, reliable electricity in a sustainable, scalable business model is key to enabling a better quality of life. Partnerships with major organizations such as Rotary are being developed to bring a full range of basic sustainable business benefits. We aim to make a major contribution to the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to eliminate the worst of world poverty by 2030.”

This year’s recipients were selected from a pool of 30 applicants based on feasibility of the their proposed projects, ability to leverage initial funding into a sustainable business plan, incorporation of educational programs, plan for growth to scale, and potential to impact one million people in a five- year timeframe after a successful pilot program.

2017-2018 Off-Grid Energy Entrepreneurs:

  • Africa Development Promise, Uganda

Uganda has one of the lowest rates of access to electricity in Africa: about 14 percent at the national level and about 10 percent in rural areas.  This project focuses on rural women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment by providing hands-on training on the solar equipment, new farming techniques enabled by powered irrigation, and cooperative food drying, packaging, and sales.  Investment in solar energy will allow villagers to connect digitally and take advantage of community-based learning to bolster agricultural cooperatives, maximizing the country’s burgeoning mushroom production and providing steady income for families.

For more information on Africa Development Promise

Part of the construction crew installing solar power in Nigeria
  • Green Village Electricity (GVE) Projects Limited, Nigeria

Inadequate power supply, adverse global climatic changes and a low standard of living have been major concerns in Nigeria, where currently only 40% of the population has access to electricity. Building on the success of IEEE Smart Village-funded pilot projects, additional electrification will provide holistic, sustainable development in 11 local communities and foster the incubation of a projected 650 new businesses. A PAYGO (Pay-as-you-Go) metering system helps foster a successful business model. The power from the solar micro-grid will run a local grain mill, eliminating the 20 km walk to nearest existing mill. Other benefits include improved education, improved rural health care, an increase in living standards and local productivity. GVE Projects is well established and this award is to help leverage new investment for growth to reach a million people in the next 3-4 years.

  • PNG Community Transformation Center, Papua New Guinea

Electrification is a life-changing factor for the people of PNG, who rely on candles, kerosene lamps, and wood fires for lighting. During the rainy season, women and children spend their time in dark, smoky huts. Children are unable to study after dusk and are exposed to lung and eye damage. Additionally, 68% of the rural population lacks access to clean drinking water. This project, in conjunction with Rotary International, will establish community transformation centers for adult education and life-skills training. The solar Micro grids will allow these communities to access locally stored management training for business owners to thrive, view lesson plans through a local intranet, and have a hosted server for local content creation. The Rotary WASH curriculum will also be stored on the server for training at preschool and up. A medical clinic and child birthing center will be powered as part of the program. The use of Universal Portable Battery Kits (UPBK) will provide lights in the community huts thereby avoiding health hazards and enhancing productivity by providing light in evening hours.

 

  • Shakti Empowerment Solutions, India

Eastern Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s most underdeveloped regions and statistics show child mortality, literacy, gender disparity, income and employment are among India’s worst.

Shakti Empowerment Solutions (SES) works with a threefold approach of social enterprise, education and community support and through the ISV funding, SES’s initial pilot program will fund a solar social enterprise as well as the expansion of a community center offering modern, digital education and community services. The pilot includes power for homes and businesses via both portable battery kits and an AC Microgrid. Via solar, onsite additional enterprises will be powered, such as a water purification unit and eco-friendly community transportation. ISV projects will aim to relieve energy poverty in this region of rural India and improve education, business opportunities and living standards in an environmentally beneficial way as it expands to reach a million people.

For more information on Shakti Empowerment Solutions

An Ice Cream Machine arrives ready for power from local grid.
  • Shaybis Nigeria, Ltd. Nigeria

Deep in the Kwajalein state of north central Nigeria lies the village of Lajolo where there are no plans for extending the state power grid for the foreseeable future. ISV is providing hope for the community in the form of an 8.5 Kw solar micro-grid as a first pilot. Initial funding will power a school, irrigate gardens, and enable refrigeration for the first time at a local general store. Discussions with the Kwara State Polytechnic University and the University of Ilorin are underway to use this village as a hands-on opportunity for the Electrical Engineering students to gain practical knowledge of real-world deployments.

Raising awareness of lighting coming to the community.
  • Renewable Energy Innovators – Cameroon (REIc)

Eleven thousand people will benefit from the two phases of the REIc project in Cameroon.   The first phase deploys IEEE Smart Village SunBlazer technology. Phase I uses a mixed-grid approach. The first grid supplies 24v DC for low voltage lighting and DC charging. A second grid is a dedicated AC line to the commercial center of the villages powering small enterprises such as barbering machines, refrigeration and phone charging booths. Phase II increases the capacity of an existing solar micro-grid by 170%, bringing transformative power to over 50 community businesses and 14 schools in the area.

  • Torchbearer Foundation dba Igniting Africa, Cameroon

Farming practices in rural villages is extremely labor intensive; solar electricity will allow automation of activities like irrigation and grain crushing, freeing women and girls to pursue educational opportunities while reducing overall hunger, improving food security, and dramatically reducing greenhouse gases associated with burning kerosene. This project is funding an innovative Mobile Power Plant for Agriculture which will provide a traveling food processer, grain crusher, oil press, and other agricultural food processing tools. The plan is expected to enable off-season growing and food storage, enhancing the year-round cash flow of the village women. This program has received modest ISV support in the past and the new funds are to foster expansion and growth.

For more information on Igniting Africa

Opportunities to Donate:

Funding for all ISV projects comes from donations to the IEEE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Numerous technical, administrative and operational volunteers support the effort. Should you wish to donate please visit the following URL: https://ieeefoundation.org/SmartVillage_donation

 

IEEE Smart Village Named a Finalist in UN-DESA Grant

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or DESA, recognized IEEE Smart Village as a finalist in its 2017 “Powering the Future We Want,” grant cycle. The UN program selects one winner every year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbpvY9K4cOA <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbpvY9K4cOA>

 

The award was announced at a ceremony on November 21st at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

“We are extremely honored by this recognition from DESA,” stated Ray Larsen, Chair of the IEEE Smart Village Committee. “Our volunteers across the world have worked hard to build this program into the positive force for sustainable development that it is. IEEE Smart Village is a unique model bringing the talents of IEEE members together with local entrepreneurs and entire communities with a plan to empower millions with electricity, education and sustainable, scalable enterprise . Being recognized by the UN-DESA committee as a finalist validates that approach and will help us grow the program forward toward our goal of empowering 50 million people by 2025. We also wish to congratulate the winner, Partnership of Grameen Shakti and ME SOLShare Ltd from Bangladesh, and to thank all of the finalists and our UN host for the unique privilege to share with and learn from them during the Capacity Development Seminars, and to trust that some lasting relationships in our common cause will be our reward. ”

There were 235 applicants of which ISV was named as one of thirteen finalist.

 

 

Lingshed Village Enjoys Electrification

Its been a little more than a year since the Lingshed Monastery was energized by the Global Himalayan Expedition and IEEE Smart Village.  This village was featured in a National Geographic program, BreakThrough: Power to the People http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/breakthrough-series/episodes/power-to-the-people/ which aired in June, 2017.  The villagers have now setup the Himalayan Innovation Centre (HIC) at Lingshed School with local computer based curriculum RACHEL and Raspberry PI computers.
Along with their village school, they have evening tuition classes at HIC where students are learning mathematics and science through interactive videos provided through RACHEL PI.