SCHOTT solutions no. 2/2011 > Solar Technology

Model projects on climate protection in Nairobi, Kenya: 1) The unep headquarters with a solar roof. Photo: Energiebau/Marieantoinetta Peru

Development Opportunity for Africa

The German Solar Academy Nairobi is looking to recruit local experts to plan and install high-quality photovoltaic systems.

Christine Fuhr

”Photovoltaics is not a privilege of the rich,” explains Achim Steiner, the Director of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), during the official opening of the unep headquarters, the first energy-neutral office building in Africa, located in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Its photovoltaic system with 4,000 solar modules produces more energy than the 1,200 employees need and saves more than 420,000 kilograms of CO₂ each year. Its emission-free solar technology is ’made in Germany’. The international photovoltaic system supplier ­”Energiebau” from Cologne received this order from the environment program of the United Nations in mid-2010 and realized the project as a general contractor using modules from SCHOTT Solar and inverters from SMA Solar Technology AG. For Steiner, this lighthouse project in Kenya demonstrates an approach for the future that shows that the age of photovoltaics has come and with it the prospect of supplying the population in Kenya with energy.
2) The ”German Solar Academy Nairobi” that offers training courses for ­specialized local workers from Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. Photo: Energiebau/SCHOTT/A. Baasner
Energy is in short supply and quite expensive in East Africa. Droughts and natural catastrophes repeatedly threaten the energy supply that is mainly based on water, heat and natural gas. The aftermaths are energy shortages, energy rationing and higher energy prices on the one hand and overload due to a lack of power grids on the other. The consequences have an effect on all segments of society by slowing down economic growth and social welfare and negatively affecting the climate and the environment.

Electricity from solar energy, on the other hand, could represent a long-term, environmentally and climate friendly, but also economically beneficial alternative for East African nations. The conditions in Africa are ideal: the solar intensity of the sun is almost twice as high as in Central Europe with more than 5 kilowatt hours per square meter and day. In addition, the global market prices for PV have dropped significantly and this, in turn, helps make Africa even more competitive. According to the giz (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), ‘grid parity’ will soon be reached in many countries of East Africa, which means that the electricity from PV will cost the same as electricity from the grids. Furthermore, non-connected, self-sufficient photovoltaic systems for use in households are already competitive.

Lack of knowledge of the potential

East African governments have only limited experience with technical implementation, financing options and the realization of larger PV projects. Solar energy is often seen as a niche product for single households in rural regions. Many people who live outside the growing metropolises, around 80 percent of the population in Kenya, have no access to the power grids. Solar home installations represent an alternative to generators that run on expensive diesel. Lack of knowledge thus prevents successful implementation of this technology on a broader scale. Poor political and regulatory conditions contribute to the fact that there are almost no incentives for private investors to invest in medium or large size solar systems.
Huge demand: participants in the training courses learn how to plan, install, operate and perform maintenance on PV systems. Photo: Energiebau/ SCHOTT/A. Baasner
To improve these poor conditions, the three German companies Energiebau Solarsysteme, SCHOTT Solar and sma Solar Technology AG are also working together in a development partnership with the giz on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in addition to the work they are doing on building the UNEP system. Their 3-year partnership began in August, 2010. Following the ‘best practice’ building in Nairobi, this public-private partnership (PPP) project will be seeking to demonstrate new application possibilities of solar systems that also include pilot systems in Kenya and Tanzania.

The German Solar Academy of Nairobi that started in July, 2011, is also an important part of this. The academy that includes experts from the three German partner firms offers several one-week training courses for about 40 local experts that are made up of employees of power companies, research institutes and private companies from Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. The content of the workshops that take place twice a year (through 2013) includes providing the technical basis and information on planning, installing, running and maintaining grid-connected and non grid-connected PV systems. In addition, a visit to the largest rooftop solar system located on top of the UNEP headquarters is also planned.

”By training local experts on high-quality products and processes, we are hoping to establish solar systems as competitive and sustainable energy sources in East Africa. More applicants applied for the first training course than we were able to accommodate. This shows how high the demand is,” explains Bernd Wolff, responsible for African projects at Energiebau Solarstromsysteme. For SCHOTT Solar, a company that manufactures innovative solar technology, this engagement in Africa also means a contribution to development aid, besides passing on special know-how on solar modules and their performance. Martin Gorn, the project coordinator at SCHOTT Solar, notes, ”We are providing high-quality modules for the UNEP building and solar experts for the Academy on the one hand, but also living up to our social responsibility in the sense of corporate social responsibility.”

The focus is also on working together with local partners who will then have the chance to deepen their practical and theoretical knowledge. For German companies, this active involvement represents an important milestone in entering the solar markets in East Africa. The project partners and investors benefit from the stronger private sector in this region due to the fact that they can rely on qualified experts. Dirk Niebel, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation, notes, ”This development partnership creates a win-win situation for the people in our partner country and for our economy.”
Photo: Energiebau/SCHOTT/A. Baasner

Positive Feedback

The participants in the German Solar Academy all responded very positively when asked about the information shared and the training program:

”Both engineers and customers want products of high quality. While we found it difficult to distinguish between good and bad products, we now have helpful testing processes available.”
Henry Giuchungi, Kenya Power and Light Company

”The training showed what good quality is available on the market. I wish more people would know what is possible by working with the right partners and products. This would give a real boost to solar applications in this region.”
Jean-Pierre Muhire, owner of a small installation firm in Rwanda

”I was able to see for the first time how a grid-connected system works. The best thing was that we were able to ask companies questions about planning, products and installations.”
Francis Maina, an installer from Kenya
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