A game-changing initiative
A receptive environment
We are in 2014 when the three personalities who will launch the Akon Lighting Africa project, Senegalese music star Akon, the youth activist Thione Niang and the entrepreneur Samba Bathily, meet and decide to join forces and networks around a transformative initiative with a clearly stated ambition: to succeed in lighting Africa. This will be Akon Lighting Africa, an awareness campaign launched by Solektra.
At first the project raised many questions, with many people considering that the challenge was too huge to be addressed or simply resigned to the fact that 600 million Africans will live forever in darkness once night falls. The 3 project’s three promoters pay attention to to key indicators. These include the decrease in the price of the photovoltaic cells used to manufacture solar panels, which dropped from 6 dollars/Wp in 2009 to 0.4 dollars in 2015; the gradual emergence of a global clean tech industry for which Africa as a promising field of operation; and the willingness of certain African decision-makers, from both the private and public sectors, to change the situation – because without energy there cannot be any development. The African energy leaders’ group is formed in Davos in January 2015; under the leadership of Seyni Nafo, the group of African negotiators for COP 21 – when the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed – has managed to speak with one voice to ensure that Africa’s needs would be taken into consideration. The International Renewable Energy Agency reissued its Renewable Energy Atlas for Africa, highlighting the opportunity for the continent in this field; in the United States, the American development agency USAID launched Power Africa with the support of President Barack Obama, and it was an African, Kandeh Yumkella, who led the Sustainable Energy For All project at the United Nations to achieve the 7th SDG – access to clean energy for all. This creates the perfect conditions for Solektra’s message to be heard.
An opportunity for Africa
From the outset, Solektra’s project aims to develop a production capacity in Africa, and the Akon Lighting Africa initiative will carry a strong message: not only can Africa be enlightened by renewables, but it can also build a competitive advantage in this area. The solar electrification project launched by Solektra is a project launched by Africans who are familiar with the realities on the ground: street lamps manufactured abroad, which increases the cost of projects; the need to manufacture locally to better take into account the specificities of each country and adapt products to the needs and not the other way round; the terrible issue of youth employment – as the next generation must be given prospects, to avoid African young men and women continue to die in the Mediterranean.
Beyond the local production of solar solutions, the promoters of the project, and in particular Samba Bathily, imagine what will be called “energy +” projects: energy + agriculture and irrigation, energy + access to water, energy + education. The Akon Lighting Africa awareness-raising campaign will be a way of showing that these projects are no longer just “working hypotheses”, but objectives towards which all stakeholders – governments, authorities in charge of rural electrification, private partners – must converge.
A need for sensitization
At the end of the day, Akon Lighting Africa is first and foremost an awareness-raising campaign – with a very specific strategy. The aim is to highlight pilot projects, to draw attention from first targeted beneficiaries – the rural African communities onto solar solutions – so that they can in return, call public decision-makers for action. Indeed, at the time when the project begins, solar solutions are considered to be expensive, technically complex to install and maintain, in a word, more suitable for developed countries than for developing countries.
Who will Samba Bathily, Akon and Thione Niang be talking to?
- First of all, African populations, by showing them through projects that it is now possible to light up, cool down and work with clean energy.
- Public authorities, to invite them to consider solar solutions in their calls for tenders and rural electrification plans
- DFIs – banks, credit institutions, development banks, international donors, private funds – to invite them to increase the volume of their investments in Africa on renewable projects, and to structure opportunities big enough to be attractive.
- Media, to ask them to help reposition the issue of access to energy in Africa at the top of the international political agenda.
- Technical partners, to design innovative schemes in order to deploy equipment quickly while offering governments attractive financing approaches and repayment modalities .
Two other issues were also highlighted. First, that of prioritization. In Africa, and given that, at the time, 70% of the population lived in rural areas (today: 65%), should we absolutely focus on deploying the grid from the cities to the countryside? Shouldn’t offgrid solutions draw more attention from public and private decision-makers and attract more of the available investments? Second issue: quality of the equipment – which depends not only on the quality of the initial materials and components but also, and above all, on maintenance. It is up to the energy players in the sector to raise awareness among the public authorities. But it is also up to the public authorities, who always have the last word, to decide to invest in this area in addition to purchasing street lamps or public candelabra – and, by choosing solar energy, for example, to create jobs for the new generation at the same time.
Solektra has also demonstrated its ability to bring to Africa world-class international partners, such as Sunna Design, recognized for its technology in the field of solar street lamp batteries, R20-20regions of climate action regions which is setting up a fund dedicated to renewable infrastructures in Africa (Sub national Climate Fund for Africa), or technical partners such as Tata Transformation Communications Services interested in the deployment of solar-powered digital solutions and e-services.
Multi-Industries Group operates in close collaboration with the Solektra Solar Academy, and the Diamniadio plant already includes a room reserved for training activities; a design and technical department will also be available as of September 2020 to develop new solutions in line with the specific needs of African consumers.
International sensitization campaign 2015-2017