Solar in Africa

Im sure all of us have heard the urban myth that simply by harnessing a small part of the Sahara desert Africa has the potential to supply the whole world’s electricity demand.. it is in fact true.  The concept of using deserts as a kind of global solar power plant was first proposed by Dr Gerhard Knies, a particle physicist who began investigating potential clean energy supplies following the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.  He arrived at the following remarkable statistic: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.  Deserts are by their nature remote, forbidding places but the practicalities of installing photovoltaic (PV) panels and using thousands of kilometres of high voltage DC cable to transmit the electricity are, thanks to modern technological advancements, all theoretically feasible.  Indeed, it remains a serious proposition, with the well funded Desertec Foundation committed to harnessing sustainable power from sites where renewable sources of energy are more abundant (like deserts) and transferring it through high voltage DC transmission to consumption centres.  But doesnt it all sound like the kind of thing a James Bond villain might get up to?

Whilst global energy use has probably doubled since Dr Knies did his initial calculations, his point remains that deserts do still offer a massive untapped resource of carbon neutral electricity – but then again, so does the African continent at large.  ImageAfrica has one of the highest solar irradiation levels in the world but there is a slight hitch – two thirds of the continent are not grid connected.  Under this scenario, home-grown power from the likes of the Sahara, Kalahari and Namib deserts as envisioned by the Desertec Foundation would be unavailable to the majority of the continent producing it, which hardly seems fair.

Fortunately, there is a way for non grid-connected communities to benefit from the immense solar resources of the African continent and access sustainable energy to make small yet significant changes in livelihoods.  Solar Kerosene Replacement Lamps, domestic PV panels, school and community PV panels, PV vaccine refrigerators, village level solar ‘kiosks’ – all of which offer decentralised, largely maintenance free sources of energy which is something co2balance has long been committed to exploring in its projects.

Its a fact that in Africa, PV panels will either replace expensive, polluting fossil fuels in peoples homes (kerosene), noisy and expensive diesel generators (communities) or in most cases supply a clean source of energy where previously there was none.  We have already seen what the mobile phone has done in Africa and the innovation that has flourished in the wake of its meteoric rise (phone based finanicial services like MPESA offering banking to the traditionally ‘unbankable’, flows of information through social media etc). The continent is now on track to reach 1 Billion mobile phone subscriptions by 2015; lets hope universal access to solar electricity on this sunniest of continents mirrors this stellar rise – who knows what innovations may follow?


Co2balance realizes the pain most communities undergo in Kenya in accessing clean and safe water especially in the dry areas. As a result last month Co2balance started discussions with the County government of Machakos to find ways how to work together and solve this menace.

Machakos County is one of the 47 counties in Kenya. Its capital is Machakos town. The local climate is semi arid with hilly terrain with an altitude of 1000 to 1600 meters above sea level. Tourist related activities such as Camping, hiking safaris, ecotourism and cultural tourism, dance and music festivals among many more are more excitingly done due to the hilly terrain. The County experiences erratic and unpredictable rains of less than 500mm annually, with short rains in October through to December and the long rains in late March to May.

Currently Machakos County is exploring carbon finance as a possible alternative revenue stream for funding its borehole community projects as well as sustaining the operation of these projects. Recently Co2balance led by the Kenya Country Director Paul Keir, travelled to the county to meet with the County Governor and other stakeholders. The goal was to gain an understanding of their current initiatives as well as identifying ways carbon finance could be generated.


At this stage its worth mentioning that water projects reduce carbon emissions by introducing a new ‘zero emissions technology’ that provides safe water in the project scenario; examples include a hand pumped borehole (as opposed to powered by a diesel generator) or a household water filter. As people don’t already have access to a supply of safe water in the county many have to boil unsafe water on traditional stoves to purify it. By providing this zero emissions technology to people who do not have access to a supply of safe drinking water the project will reduce the emissions created from boiling water for drinking thus safeguard the environment and curb climate change.

Many existing boreholes in the county owned by community groups have fallen into disrepair because maintenance programmes have been poorly managed and or prove too expensive. In this instance Co2balance will work with Machakos County to identify broken down boreholes and rehabilitate them so that they deliver clean and safe water. The main goal for the collaboration will be to ensure that the quality of the water delivered by the boreholes is fit for human consumption.