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Archives for Power Africa

The Power of Scientific Research Investment in Africa

On Friday, August 1st, Mr. Melvin Foote and Dr. Nkem Khumbah published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing persuasively that scientific and technological progress is the key to African development. In their words:

“Scientific and technological advancement will help eradicate poverty and promote homegrown economic development by providing Africa with the tools to address its own challenges and expand its industrial productivity.”

In the days before the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah encouraged the U.S. Government to embrace “a science-led agenda in Africa” by pairing American higher education institutions, scientific research centers and tech entrepreneurs with African counterparts to spur economic growth and reduce dependence on aid.

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah’s vision is one that USAID fully supports and has already taken significant steps to catalyze. Today, Africans are the architects of their development, not just beneficiaries. This new model for development focuses on partnerships — with African governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

Building lasting partnerships with African leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators is at the core of USAID’s approach, which seeks to end extreme poverty by investing in Africa’s greatest resource: its people. Many of our newest initiatives reflect not only our renewed commitment to science and technology, but the central importance Africans play in global affairs throughout the 21st century.

USAID is constantly seeking new African partners in an effort to support great ideas from people all over the continent. Under efforts like USAID’s new Global Development Lab, which brings together diverse partners to discover, test and scale new solutions to chronic development challenges, we have identified 200 promising innovations that are currently being tested and evaluated.

Many of these solutions come from developing country entrepreneurs, including African entrepreneurs. A prescription medication verification and tracking system invented by Sproxil, a Kenya-based company (and USAID partner) has reached over 2 million customers in Ghana, Nigeria and East Africa by placing scratch cards on packs of medication. The scratch card reveals a numerical code, and when texted to a Sproxil-provided phone number, will verify whether the drug is genuine or fake. Dozens of similar innovations that have the potential to save millions of lives are currently being tested in Africa, including inexpensive chlorine dispensers in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi and stickers to encourage passengers to urge bus drivers in Kenya to slow down, thereby reducing traffic accidents and related deaths.

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Power Africa is another example of USAID’s new model in action. Through the U.S. Government’s partnerships with African governments, private investors, developers and others, not only is Power Africa saving lives by, for example, bringing electricity to a rural clinic, but it is also spurring long-term growth by scaling new technologies, generating new jobs, and reducing the risks for foreign investment.

Power Africa may have been conceived by the U.S. Government, but the private sector has since taken the lead — the U.S. Government commitment of $7 billion in financing and loan guarantees has given both international and African businesses the confidence to invest in Africa’s emerging electricity sector to the tune of more than $20 billion to date.

As Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah note, it is critical to train the next generation of Africans in science and engineering. USAID supports a number of efforts to this end currently, and is hoping to do more in the near future. In November 2012, USAID and seven universities launched the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) with the goal of bringing their intellectual power and enthusiasm closer to real-time development innovations in the field. This network currently collaborates with labs at four African universities to support studies of how communities respond to changing conditions such as urbanization, changes in local climate, and post-war recovery.

In addition, members of the network collaborate with and support existing S&T based African-led enterprises and emergent community led technology development. The Higher Education for Development (HED) program has supported dozens of partnerships between U.S. universities and African peer institutions. These partnerships typically last years beyond the U.S. investment and result in broad and deep connections between the U.S. and Africa.

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK).

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK). / Lilian Pintea, Jane Goodall Institute

Similarly, the Research and Innovation Fellowships (RI Fellowships) program and Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program foster science and engineering partnerships on the individual level. RI Fellowships currently supports more than 60 African scientists to collaborate with U.S. fellows in applying their scientific and technological expertise to local development challenges. The PEER program funds scientists who see problems in their midst to do the in-depth research required for creative solutions, while simultaneously expanding research ecosystems in the developing world.

One hundred and fourteen PEER scientists around the world tackle local challenges with tenacity and intellectual vigor, guiding the local development agenda and building an academic foundation for progress. The recent 2014 PEER awardees’ meeting brought 39 PEER awardees from 10 African countries to Arusha, Tanzania to build new connections. As part of the conference, the Vice President of Tanzania, His Excellency Mohamed Bilal, delivered the keynote address in which he said, “Science, engineering and technology education in Sub Saharan Africa holds the key to unlocking the continent’s great potential that could propel sustainable growth and development.”

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah are right on the mark that a new model of development for Africa must be inclusive, grounded in the latest scientific and technological advancements, and focused on African priorities. Working with counterparts across Africa is the best way to catalyze the technological and scientific change that will be necessary to make the continent’s economic growth sustainable far into the future. Great ideas backed by 21st century science and technology – many of them home-grown in Africa – are the surest path to lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty for good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry O’Brien is the Director of the Center for Data, Analysis, and Research in the U.S. Global Development Lab. Follow the Lab @GlobalDevLab

GE Turns on Power in Power Africa

Whether it’s kick starting local off-grid energy projects in Kenya and Nigeria, or  larger scale initiatives across the region, GE’s involvement in the Power Africa initiative is very much underway.

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Mibawa Suppliers was awarded a $100,000 grant from Shari Berenbach, President and CEO of the USADF. Mibawa’s ‘rent to own’ solar scheme provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. / Rudy Gharib, USAID

Michael Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers is among the first $100,000 award winners in the new GE/USADF Off-Grid Energy Challenge, launched as part of Power Africa earlier this year. GE partnered with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), a US government agency, supporting African-originated solutions that generate jobs, improve incomes, and raise standards of living. With the Challenge, more than twenty, $100,000 grants will be awarded over the next three years to African organizations with off-grid solutions that help power economic activity.

In rural Kenya, Wanyoni’s model provides Kenyan villagers with cheaper, safer, and more regular power supply. “We hope to go from 5,000 units now to 10,000 units by the end of next year,” says Wanyonyi, CEO of Mibawa Suppliers about his ‘rent to own’ solar scheme.

With Mibawa Suppliers’ IndiGo system, families make a small initial outlay of KS1,200 (around $14), for equipment and installation of a solar system with two lights and cell phone charging capability. Customers then pay a weekly charge of KS140 (around $1.6) through a scratch card until they own the system in full. The $100,000 Off-Grid Challenge award will help fund further growth of the scheme with a proposed doubling of units in the next 12 months.

Most customers previously spent up to $4 a week on kerosene, but could not shift to cheaper solar because of the set-up costs. As Wanyonyi says; “There are cost benefits but it is also a cleaner energy, better for health. It is helping local businesses and the performance of children in school with better light for study.”

Green Village Energy Group (GVE Group) is also  receiving an award for their  18kw solar powered off grid project generating electricity for 140 homes at Egbeke, in Rivers state, Nigeria, an extension to an existing successful 6kw project.

“This award has been absolutely wonderful”, GVE Group Chief Executive, Ifeanyi Orajaka said. “It has given us the opportunity to commercialise the project concept and take it to the next stage.”

The other four Off-Grid Challenge award winners in this first award round include proposals to construct solar powered water points in rural Northern Kenya, to put into place a bio-gas digester in Nairobi, to set up a standalone cold storage facility to allow farmers in north central Nigeria to store their produce and to study the feasibility of a renewable hydro-electric power system.

Work has also started on making this vision of Power Africa a reality with the launch of the ‘Ghana 1000MW Project’ with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a 1000 megawatts of power plant signed with the Ghana government.

Caption: Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. Credit: Rudy Gharib/USAID

Power Africa Coordinator, Andy Herscowitz, learns about the IndiGo’s energy kit. Each box contains a mini-generator, two lamps, a solar panel, and charging cables. / Rudy Gharib/USAID

“We are looking to put together something that is really innovative, the creation of a gas to power solution that can be a model for the region”, says GE Managing Director for Western Africa, Leslie Nelson.

GE is involved in two major wind projects in Kenya as part of the Government’s objective to increase Kenya’s power capacity by an additional 5000MW over the next few years. GE will supply Wind Turbines to the 60MW Kinangop Wind Park project which reached Financial Close in November 2013. GE is also developing the 100MW Kipeto Wind Farm and is arranging for the project to be financed through Power Africa in a deal valued at US$300M.

In Tanzania, GE has partnered with Jacobsen, a Norwegian EPC, to build the 150MW Kinyerezi (I) power plant for Tanesco, the Tanzanian power utility. GE will supply 4 Aeroderivative gas turbines. Construction has commenced on the plant.

GE Africa President and CEO, Jay Ireland feels 2014 will be another milestone year for GE in Africa and Power Africa. “I think one important aspect”, says Ireland, “is how we are tapping into local expertise. We can bring in the technology, but local people on the ground have the most valuable insights on what works best for Africa and how we can meet the power needs of the continent.”

FrontLines: Energy/Infrastructure

FrontLines January/February 2014: Energy / Infrastructure

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to see how the Agency invests in energy and infrastructure projects around the world. Some highlights:

An Ethiopian-born entrepreneur from Canada was hoping to operate a mining facility in his homeland, but his plans were thwarted by one thing — a lack of energy to power the mine. Read how Nejib Abba Biya and the Ethiopian Government, with support from the United States, are working to use the country’s natural geothermal energy as a reliable, renewable power source.

Electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week is the new — and welcome — normal for residents living in Haiti’s Caracol Village.

Waiting and waiting and waiting for a web page to load — that is so 1990s. Just ask the residents and aid workers at the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where high-speed Internet access is only a click away.

It’s Sri Lanka’s version of “Back to the Future” as some of its citizens embrace rainwater harvesting, a practice dating back to the 5th century that today has a 21st century, enviro-friendly appeal.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

Partnerships and Opportunity: Reflections from the African Union Summit

Dr. Gatew displays bamboo fibers that have gone through the crusher. In this untreated state the flattened fibers still contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to rot, and naturally occurring sugars which attract insects. To reduce the decay factors, bamboo is either treated chemically or thermally. African Bamboo uses the more eco-friendly thermal modification.

Dr. Gatew displays bamboo fibers that have gone through the crusher. In this untreated state the flattened fibers still contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to rot, and naturally occurring sugars which attract insects. To reduce the decay factors, bamboo is either treated chemically or thermally. African Bamboo uses the more eco-friendly thermal modification.

In late January, when President Obama addressed the country, he spoke of our work across Africa “bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.” I watched, from Nairobi, Kenya, where I had just seen his words brought to life. The day before, I traveled to Baringo—a rural county in midwestern Kenya, where half the population lives in poverty and over 90 percent of people don’t have access to electricity. I was there to commemorate the groundbreaking of a new 12 megawatt power plant, one of the first projects supported by Power Africa, a U.S. Government initiative. The company developing this power project, Cummins Cogeneration Kenya Limited (CCKL), designed a biomass power plant that will take advantage of one resource Baringo has in abundance: the mathenge weed. The weed (known in America as mesquite wood) is an invasive species, introduced decades ago to combat desertification, but now wreaking havoc on farmers’ pastoral lands, livestock, and the natural environment. CCKL plans to train and employ 2,500 locals, mostly women, to harvest the invasive weed. Through biomass gasification technology, the mathenge weed will be converted into locally generated electricity—enough energy to power well over 12,000 homes. New access to energy will create opportunities in this rural county that suffers from severe energy poverty. Electricity means that farmers can increase their yields, and their profits; parents have safe alternatives to cooking over open fires, students can read after the sun sets; families can stay connected through cellphones that are easily charged at night. Ultimately, access to power leads to improvements in income, health, education, and general well-being.

I saw how these improvements take shape later that same week when I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia visiting a local company with a new idea for powering agriculture.  Regions like Sidama and Bale Ethiopia, have an untapped reserve of over a million hectares of native highland bamboo. Currently, bamboo is sold at low prices for small construction projects like building fences and for fuel. But one Ethiopian company, African Bamboo, is pioneering a new technology to process native bamboo into high-value, commercial-quality wood panels. In order to minimize the environmental impact of the energy-intensive thermal processing, African Bamboo developed a processing technology powered by organic waste, like the husks of coffee beans. African Bamboo’s innovation won a $1 million dollar energy challenge grant from USAID to support research and enable the company to replicate its model. Through use of this technology, African Bamboo is not only increasing the value of bamboo for small-scale farmers, but creating economic opportunities along the value-chain: cutting, transporting, manufacturing and exporting bamboo to an international market. This translates to increased incomes and improved livelihoods for the 30 farming cooperatives and over 2,000 farmers who are partnering with the company.

These farmers and their families are the reason USAID is partnering with companies like CCKL and African Bamboo. Reliable, affordable electricity is essential for powering growth and lifting millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty. USAID can be the catalyst that encourages this private investment in Africa’s energy future. As President Obama reminded us in the State of the Union last month, our nation’s leadership is defined by the “enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe, to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want.”