There has been incredible viral media attention to Northern Uganda this week, without naming names. Personal grumbles aside, the campaign triggered excellent debate surrounding awareness raising, local capacity building, and international development approaches in general.
To inject a dose of local reality, it is timely to share the story of John, a Glenergy solar entrepreneur in Northern Uganda.
Solar entrepreneur since January 2011
Location: Arua, Uganda
John Oneti is a tailor by trade and subsistance farmer. Tailor contracts in Northern Uganda are typically seasonal and are dependent on, for example, school cycles for uniforms. To manage sporadic work schedules and support his family, Oneti started selling Glenergy solar lanterns and panels on market days in Arua district. John’s inital inventory was placed with him on micro-consignment, a financing arrangement where he pays for his goods after they sell. Arua is an important commercial centre for Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Democratic Repulic of the Congo, and John can count on making approximately 150,000 UGX/week (~$60 US) - a very comfortable supplementary income. John has also recently started operating a Glenergy 50W solar charging station from his home to charge mobile phones and lanterns in his village. The community benefits from an affordable and reliable source of power and light, and John’s family benefits from their improved financially situation.
“Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development.” - Energy Poverty Action, initiative of the World Economic Forum
There is an energy dimension to poverty known simply as energy poverty, which manifests when there is a lack of access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy. Energy is opportunity, and imperative to basic activities such as boiling water, storing vaccines, reading at night. Yet, more than three billion people worldwide rely on traditional fuels such as wood, charcoal, dung, and kerosene for cooking and light.
It is well documented that there are more women than men living in poverty. Because of traditional socio-cultural roles, women and girls in developing countries bear the burden / responsibility of collecting fuel for household energy consumption. Women are at the nexus between poverty and energy, so to talk about either it’s necessary to apply a gender lens.
Rural women spend long hours collecting fuel and carrying it home over long distances. The time and labour feeds into another dimension of poverty, time poverty, limiting women’s ability to engage in productive or income-generating activities. Sometimes referred to as: women’s invisible work, reproductive work, women’s double burden, women’s double day, time poverty cripples opportunity for education and income generation, which as a result often means her family will remain trapped in poverty.
Women’s health suffers from carrying heavy loads of firewood long distances. In the home, over a makeshift cookstove and lantern, the exposure to smoke from fuel-based cooking and lighting contributes to over 2 million deaths per year. (See, “Fuel for Life: Household Energy and Health” — excellent report by the World Health Organization). After-dark and without light, women suffer disproportionately from energy poverty from reduced security and gender-based violence.
An estimated 265 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are emitted annually from burning fuel for light gloablly, accelerating the effects of climate change and deforestation. Climate change makes women’s long workday even longer due to unpredictable rains causing food, fuel and water scarcity and therefore longer treks to collect the necessities.
The feminization of energy poverty is a vicious cycle impeding sustainable development. Improved access to clean energy is absolutely critical to rural women and girls’ development and empowerment. This year, the declared year of Sustainable Energy for All, let’s remember to keep gender at the centre of discussion and decision-making.
Selling pineapples by kerosene light, roadside in Dar es Salaam.
MDG 1 End Poverty and Hunger
Rural, poor households spend up to 40% of their total income on inefficient, polluting and hazardous fuels for lighting, such as kerosene. On a per-kilowatt basis, this translates to costing up to 100 times more than modern lighting and electricity. Kerosene forces the poorest families to divert essential funds away from nutrition, health and education. Modern lighting allows for economic development and income generating activities after dark. A solar lantern pays for itself in less than one year and then represents huge savings for the millions of families living under the international poverty line of $1.25/day.
MDG 2 Universal Education
Modern quality lighting allows for children and other household members to study past sunset. School retention and test grades are directly and positively correlated with modern, quality lighting.
MDG 3 Gender Equality
Women and girls carry the burden of collecting fuel for lighting and cooking thereby reducing their time available to spend on productive activities such as education, income generation, and community development (perpetuating the cycle of time poverty). Women and girls suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunity from energy poverty and security after dark; sustainable access to light empowers women.
MDG 4 Child Health & MDG 5 Maternal Health
A child studying by kerosene lamp at night is inhaling the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes. Noxious fumes, emitted from the burning of kerosene, cause respiratory and pulmonary infections, lung and throat cancers, eye infections and other severe illness within the household. The World Health Organization reports millions of annual deaths in the developing world caused from indoor air pollution. Tipped kerosene lanterns and candles can cause fire catastrophes resulting in burns and fatalities. Clean solar lighting provides household security after dark, improves indoor air quality and health, and presents no fire hazard.
MDG 7 Environmental Sustainability
Used just four hours a day, a single kerosene lantern emits over 100kg of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Consequently, using fuel for light annually produces an estimated 265 million tones of greenhouse gas emissions. Vulnerability, and the accelerating effects of climate change and deforestation are felt most dramatically in developing countries. Solar is abundant, emission-free, and a renewable resource.
After three days of meetings in Nairobi to launch Glenergy Kenya, we hit the road heading North West to visit a handful of our village-level solar entrepreneurs. The first village we stopped in was in a Maasai village in the Maasai Mara. In traditional boma style households we learned that the Maasai are spending, on average, 30 KES every three days on kerosene and 20 KES for mobile charging. At approximately $0.60 every three days, a semi-nomadic herder is spending $72 annually (a very large proportion of their income) on kerosene and to keep their cell phone on - yes, they have cell phones! Our potential solar entrepreneur Joseph here is very optimistic about diverting these household costs to higher payments for solar lanterns.
Onwards from the Mara (after spotting plenty of safari game), we met Silas dealing Glenergy solar-powered lanterns in Siaya and doing other inspiring project work in the neighboring villages of Sege and Yogo. We learned that Silas’ first consignment of solar lanterns have almost all been sold to hospitals and community clinics in the region. Patients and doctors of rural clinics and under-electrified hospitals benefit enormously from sustainable and reliable lighting. As you could imagine, it would be hard delivering a baby in the dark or performing an emergency surgery by the dim flickering light of a kerosene lantern. We are also glad to have had the opportunity to meet the beneficiaries and see the hard work of Silas’ community based projects - More details on that to come. Our priority now is getting Silas set up with more solar lanterns to continue his extraordinary impact in the Siaya region.
Another extremely bumpy drive, still heading NW, brought us to solar entrepreneur Ben in his village of Bugaji. With some cash in his pocket from the sale of just thirty solar lanterns, Ben invested in six young women to launch their own micro-businesses. This solidarity group of enterprising young women have committed to ‘table banking’ (group savings and lending) to grow their businesses - again, more on this to come. Meeting with Ben and these women had Glen and me thinking: if this is what Ben can spin out from the sale of thirty solar lanterns, imagine when his next 500 pieces arrive! Well, Ben’s larger consignment has just arrived in Bugaji, and I’m looking forward to sharing his next amazing story.
We ditched the car when we arrived in Kampala, Uganda; it was not a sorrow parting. Richard, Glenergy UG Head of Operations, joined Glen and me for several days of meetings with interesting people from a wide range of backgrounds, but all with the same drive to get light to the 88% of Ugandans that live without access to electricity. Our first visit out of Kampala was to Kamengo where NGO Care For Your Life has launched a beautiful community centre complete with an off-grid solar system for reliable power and light after sunset. The secondary school level children that use the centre have been operating their own micro-business from a Glenergy solar charging station for mobile phones and lanterns. The boys there told us that they charge about twenty phones everyday at 500UGX (about $3.85/day). With additional revenues from lantern charging and Internet cafe service, Care For Your Life has provided a sustainable fixture in the community.
The following day we hit Luwerro to visit Susan (of Mama Waatali) and Brad (of Rotary Stittsville). They are busy filling a space to be used as a community library. We met Brad and Susan when they were exploring off-grid light and power options for the library because reading shouldn’t have to stop come nightfall in Luwerro. Once installed, their solar system will power enough lights for 24 children reading at the same time, two computers, and similarly as in Kamengo, will have a solar charging station to generate income. Mama Waatali’s girls are our newest solar entrepreneurs.
Each of these enterprising individuals or groups deserve their own blog post to further describe the impact they are making in their communities. I have been touched to see this snowball effect of community development and opportunity kick-started from relatively humble beginnings. We are certainly receiving generous daily doses of inspiration, lessons and humility while on this tour of East Africa.
Now, we’ve only just arrived in Tanzania and I’m already looking forward to being equally as proud and impressed with what’s going on here.
In this season of light and giving, let’s celebrate the occasion with gifts the world truly needs. Glenergy and the Petawawa Rotary Club have teamed up to deliver solar lights to rural, off-grid Africa to stop families from burning kerosene. It’s a mission directly linked to 6 of the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals.
Here’s how it works:
1. You order one or more solar lanterns and panels for $40 each.
2. You receive a gift card that explains the impact of sustainable lighting and announces that a lantern has been given in your loved one’s name.
3. A solar entrepreneur in East Africa receives an inventory to launch his or her micro-business.
4. When your lantern is sold, a solar entrepreneur earns a commission on the sale and remits the principal $40 to the local Glenergy company.
5. Then Glenergy reinvests your money in another solar entrepreneur, and your $40 continues to transform lives.
Purchase online: www.glenergy.ca
Peter, a solar entrepreneur in Tanzania, gives a demonstration of a Glenergy solar-powered LED lantern in his home village. When the lantern is fully charged from its solar panel (free from the sun), it provides a household 24 hours of bright LED light. This is a big deal to a family who lives on less than $5/day and previously spent up to 40% of their annual income on dirty, inefficient, and unsafe fuel-based lighting. Peter offers the solar lanterns to families on a rent-to-own credit scheme at the same rate that they had been paying for kerosene.
The following is a newspaper article on Glen’s “Aha!” moment in 2001. Glen envisioned the marriage of LED and photovoltaic technology, and its potential in the developing world for the unelectrified. Now in 2011, Glenergy has solar powered LED lanterns in over 48 countries while addressing six of the eight Millennium Development Goals.
Inventor’s Bright Idea Produces Solar-Powered Bulb
By Kelly Egan
April 6, 2001. The Ottawa Citizen, D1.
PETAWAWA – Glen MacGillivray has seen the light if not the future—a light bulb costing $35 to $95, powered free by the sun, and burning intensely white for 100,000 hours.
A metallurgist by training, Mr. MacGillivray, 43, has just rolled out Glenergy Inc., with its world headquarters in a log cabin striking for its pool table, drum set and trio of ecstatic dogs.
Yesterday, the firm’s administrator, Sharyl-Anne Andrews, between taking orders and answering the telephone, fixed up a mess of lasagna for lunch. Glenergy is not yet General Electric.
“Inventor? Inventive maybe,” corrected Mr. MacGillivray, holding a $95 light bulb in his hand at his home office, set in 45 acres of bush off Highway 17, 160 kilometres west of Ottawa.
The company, just incorporated in February, is marrying two technologies: solar power, which turns light into electricity, and light-emitting diodes, which turn electricity into light.
“Twenty years ago, I was building a windmill in the basement because I had an uncle in Cape Breton who lived on a hill with no electricity. Then I got sidetracked for a while.”
Mr. MacGillivray said he resumed his exploration of alternative energy sources last year when, during a flight to the east coast last August, he began flipping through Scientific American.
He began reading about the discovery of the white light-emitting diode, or LED, which had long been a missing link for scientists.
“I was stunned. The taxi driver at the other end was the first one to hear all about it.”
LEDs are the red, green and yellow lights found in stereos, computers, toys and virtually anything electronic. Unlike incandescent lights, they do not use a filament.
They consume only about one-tenth the power of incandescent lights but last perhaps 100 times longer.
The white LED had eluded researchers for years. Finally, in the mid-1990s, a scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara took a blue LED and coated it with a phosphor, producing an intense white light.
When he read about the discovery, Mr. MacGillivray put two and two together. He conceived of a small solar-powered unit that would use white LEDs as a light source.
He turned to Petawawa resident John Schenk, “a magnificent prototype maker” with a background at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Soon, he had a light bulb with the usual screw-in base and between three and 12 white LEDs on top.
Mr. MacGillivray believes it is the only one of its kind in Canada.
“I think white LEDs are going to dominate lighting. But it will take time.”
One good-quality white LED, for instance, costs between $4 and $5 wholesale for a unit the size of a pencil eraser, about 10 times the cost of a standard light bulb. The LEDs, which emit very little heat, are already being used in specialized uses where durability is important, such as traffic signals or indoor exit signage.
A research officer at the National Research Council agrees white LEDs have a lot of potential for broader applications.
“Everybody right now in the lighting field sees a great deal of promise in this area”, said Guy Newsham, a leader in the NRC’s lighting program.
“The holy grail though is white lighting for general illumination, which LEDs are not able to provide right now at any reasonable cost.”
Mr. Newsham said it is telling, however, that the major lighting manufacturers, such as Phillips and General Electric, have formed strategic alliances with electronic companies to explore the potential of LEDs.
For now, Mr. MacGillivray say Glenergy is still doing market research and sees its short-term customers in three areas: boaters looking for low-power light sources, outfitters who have camps off the hydro grid and cottagers.
Packages range from $200 to $890, depending on how much lighting and the size of the panels and batteries required.
In the longer term, Mr. MacGillivray sees the developing world as a huge market. For the millions of people in sunny climates who live without power, he sees the solar-LED system as a possible answer to indoor lighting.
Currently, Glenergy has small manufacturing centers in Petawawa and Cape Breton, with an associate in New Zealand. Mr. MacGillivray does not see the company growing into a mass producer of consumer light bulbs.
“I think our expertise is in two areas: the design of a whole system and doing research to understand people’s needs.”
There are 10 employees between Glenergy and Nray Services Inc., which Mr. MacGillivray also controls, a company specializing in nuclear radiography.
In order to ensure that your energy needs are met, it is important to recognize that the components of a system have to work together. As a follow up to the previous post on solar system design, brief introductions to the following components are provided below:
At the beginning of the system design process, it is necessary to examine the various items that will require energy from the future system and to determine their total consumption. Understanding your energy consumption will be essential in designing a system of an appropriate size. Loads may include anything from lights and stereos to water pumps and microwave ovens. When exploring each of your loads, consider the following:
Does the item require AC or DC power?
The nature of the loads should be explored to make sure that power of the necessary type (AC or DC) is available in sufficient quantity.
What is the total consumption of the item?
Determine the watts consumed by each load. Then, estimate the number of hours per week that each load will need to run. For each load, multiply the watts consumed by the hours run per week. This calculation will provide you with watt hours per week for that load. Find the total weekly energy required from the system by determining the sum of all of the weekly consumptions for the individual loads.
(i.e. Solar Photovoltaic Panels, Wind Turbines, Fuel Generators, Etc.)
The mix of power sources that is ideal for you will depend upon your needs, but also upon the resources available to you.
After analyzing loads and usage patterns, knowledge of the amount and intensity of wind and sunshine at your location will allow you determine the appropriate type and capacity of your ideal power source. At Glenergy, we generally design so that the daily production calculated is about 1.5 times the estimated daily consumption. This factor covers the various inefficiencies in the system. In residential systems, we definitely recommend the inclusion of a fuel-fired generator to provide power when the batteries are depleted from an extended period without renewable energy availability.
Energy Storage (Batteries)
Most alternative energy systems require batteries to store energy. For the most part, lead acid deep cycle batteries provide the best price/performance among the batteries available on the market today. These batteries come in a number of varieties including: flooded, sealed, gel or Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM).
Size really does matter! Batteries are the heart of the system so it is important to make sure that they are big enough. A reasonable “rule of thumb” is to provide rated capacity equal to a week’s consumption. For example, if your total weekly consumption is 1200 Wh/week, then a battery of at least 100 Ah at 12 V (W = A x V / Wh = Ah x V) would be required. A battery bank of this size should provide approximately 3 to 4 days of reserve capacity. In order to keep batteries in top condition, we design systems such that the batteries will not need to be brought below 50% of their capacity.
Power conversion and distribution systems
In the alternative energy world, it is often necessary to convert direct current (DC) from batteries into alternating current (AC) to run appliances. The tool used to achieve this conversion is called an inverter.
While some appliances require the very high quality AC power provided by sine wave inverters, many devices can function very well with less expensive square wave or modified sine-wave inverters. Less expensive inverters tend also to be less efficient and generally do not offer additional features such as automatic generator starting, load transfer or battery charging.
In some cases, it is possible to meet energy needs without an inverter by switching smaller loads to DC. A 12V DC system, particularly for lighting, can help you to avoid the relative inefficiency or expense of an inverter.
Charge controllers are used to manage the charging of batteries and, sometimes, the discharge of batteries by the loads. Charge controllers vary widely in effectiveness, options and price. Many models include metering systems to display such things as current from the solar panels, current to the loads, battery voltage, etc. There are versions that include technologies such as Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) or Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) that optimize the charging of batteries from solar panels. Some models can manage both wind and solar charging. At Glenergy, we carry a number of different charge controllers to suit the diverse needs of our customers.
To explore the full range of system components available at Glenergy, please visit our Online Store
Figured it would be appropriate for the first post of this blog be dedicated to the most common type of question we hear in the store: what size of system do we need to power ______? If it can be done with solar, we can do it — here’s a run through of the initial considerations…
The alternative energy system design process begins with a careful evaluation of energy needs. It is important to be thorough and realistic when estimating your energy consumption because the size and cost of a system are directly dependent on the amount of energy that the system will need to provide. Some important questions to ask are:
Your location and the time of year that the system will be used are very important. Hours of effective, full sun can vary tremendously during the year and from place to place. Wind resources are even more variable. If considering a wind-powered system, it is generally advisable to conduct a survey of the site and measure the wind resource available. For residential off-grid applications, hybrid systems including both wind and solar power, are often used, along with a reliable back-up generator.
To help you to begin exploring the system design process, Glenergy has developed a System Design Estimation Tool. This tool will help you to estimate your energy needs, to determine the size of system required to meet those needs, and to find the rough cost for such a system.
Next post - Solar system components.