Jane Oyugi, Sustenersol: “There is a beneficial ripple effect to the Green Solutions Awards”
In 2017, Sustenersol Company Ltd (Sustenersol) competed in the Green Solutions Awards, an international competition for climate solutions run by the Construction21 network. Sustenersol’s Solar Microgrid Project for Rural School Electrification in Tanzania was a Finalist, competing for the Sustainable Infrastructure Grand Prize. Jane Oyugi, Co-Founder and CEO of Sustenersol says while her company did not win the Grand Prize, competing and being a Finalist afforded them plenty of opportunities to tell their story and participate in the Green Solutions Award ceremony during COP23/World Climate Solutions in Bonn, Germany in November 2017. It also provided the opportunity to present their project at the World Efficiency Solution conference in December 2017 in Paris, France. In an interview, Jane Oyugi presents that inspiring project and the benefits of such a project to the planet and local communities that live without electricity.
What is Sustenersol’s mission?
Jane Oyugi: Sustenersol is a startup registered in Tanzania. We are a local project developer focused on developing affordable and sustainable solar microgrid projects, solar streetlights and energy efficiency solutions. Our mission is to leverage renewable energy solutions to reduce energy poverty, reduce carbon footprint and to enable economic development in local communities. We focus on rural areas that do not benefit from urban energy infrastructures. We target anchor customers such as rural schools, health facilities, farmers, small businesses and municipalities as the primary consumers of energy and ancillary customers such as households as additional consumers of energy. As project developers, we identify projects and customers, obtain authorizations, conduct site assessments, engage with local communities, procure the technology solutions, manage every step of the project, mitigate project risks, and ensure sustainable operations and maintenance.
While a number of companies may offer solar light kits or small solar home systems to households in rural areas, we chose to deliver solar microgrid systems to schools, health facilities and small businesses, thus creating a local infrastructure and a distributed energy system at the anchor customer. Households living in close proximity to the anchor customer can access that energy. That’s what we did at our pilot project in Mpwapwa district where we installed a solar microgrid (a self-contained solar power system with energy storage) to power the rural school and staff houses nearby.
How was the Solar Microgrid project born?
Jane Oyugi: When we formed the company, we wanted to focus on rural areas so as to improve livelihoods in rural communities. We needed a pilot project to demonstrate that an integrated, pre-tested, pre-configured solar power system with lithium ion batteries can be deployed in a remote area in a few days and deliver positive impacts immediately. After narrowing down potential sites, we identified Kisokwe Primary School as an interesting site for our pilot project. The school is in the small village of Kisokwe, with a population of 3,525 (per the most recent census) and is located in Mpwapwa district in the region of Dodoma. The region is almost entirely dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry, which are practiced in rural areas at a subsistence level. The Kisokwe Primary School enrolls about 800 students and faces significant challenges such as lack of access to clean water, inadequate sanitation, lack of electricity and no integration of computers and technology in the delivery of the curriculum. Also, the teacher to student ratio reaches 1 teacher for 80 students or more.
By delivering access to clean power in this local community, Sustenersol and its partners could address many of these issues. With this project, the school could integrate information, communications and technology (ICT) in the delivery of their curriculums, establish a computer lab and on-line learning center, offer adult education after school hours, provide lighting in the classrooms, staff offices and teacher housing, and offer an energy station to the community to allow them to use the electricity for phone charging and other productive uses.
We wanted an integrated, pre-configured and pre-tested solar power system that met the school’s requirements and a system that you can easily and quickly unpack, assemble, install and switch on.
We partnered with a technology provider that is a leading innovator in off-grid power solutions that have been deployed and proven reliable in remote and harsh environments by customers such as the U.S. Department of Defense and other country’s military installations. This technology provider, ZeroBase Energy, designed, integrated and manufactured a solar powered system that was created specifically for our project so that we can demonstrate the scalability of such a solution for rural electrification in Tanzania. Our technology partner succeeded and produced a pre-integrated, pre-tested and pre-configured solar power system. Once the system arrived on site, together with our technology partner and local partners, we installed and commissioned the system in a few days.
From there, how did the project unfold?
Jane Oyugi: To ensure a successful and sustainable project, we augmented our team with the technology provider team as well as a team of local partners from the village and nearby town of Mpwapwa. Local partners included a civil works contractor, electrical contractor and a local team from the village for trenching and project support. Prior to commencing the project, we provided training to the local team leaders and teams to ensure each person clearly understood the customer’s needs, the project’s objectives, approach and critical success factors.
As the project developer and project manager, we developed a project plan with activities for each team and we created a risk mitigation plan to ensure risks were mitigated and the project executed successfully. We were responsible for the site assessment, gathering the customer requirements, collaborating with the technology provider to design a scalable system, identifying and managing the sub-contractors, obtaining authorizations for the project, engaging with the village and school stakeholders, handling shipping and logistics, and ensuring successful training, installation, operations and maintenance.
That kind of project should engage local communities, how did you manage that?
Jane Oyugi: We worked closely with the local community and the school staff and students. We especially invested in our relationship with the local leaders, teachers and Headteacher, who was the community engagement manager for this project. He facilitated the collaboration with the community leaders, training locals and educating them. That was a necessary and exciting phase of the project. Engaging the local community, training them on solar energy and the productive uses of power ensures the system will be maintained and respected in a sustainable manner.
How does the Solar Microgrid fair today?
Jane Oyugi: The pilot system was commissioned on October 22, 2015 and has been working flawlessly since its installation. The solar PV, charge controller, inverter, lithium ion batteries and the associated LED lights are all top-level high quality products with warranties. The solar PV is guaranteed for 25 years and lithium ion battery for 10 years. The only maintenance required from the local maintenance person at the school is dusting off the solar panels on a regular basis.
Since the arrival of the solar microgrid system, the school became the energy station for the school and village. In October 2015, during the national elections, the school was used as a place where the votes were counted into the night since it was the only place in the village with reliable power.
As part of the project, we provided a laptop and a projector for the teachers. The laptop was loaded with Microsoft Office and off-line Khan Academy modules for the teachers to facilitate the delivery of their teaching curriculum. The school is currently looking for funding to provide more computers in order to establish a computer lab and an online learning center for the school and local community.
We also provided water filtration products to enable students at the school to have access to clean drinking water from their water source.
A future use of the solar microgrid system could be to expand its capacity and incorporate other productive uses of power at the school such as grinding corn and establishing a carpentry workshop at the school.
You presented your project to the Green Solutions Awards 2017. What benefits did you get from your participation?
Jane Oyugi: We are glad we submitted an application to compete in the Green Solutions Awards 2017 and I would strongly encourage startups and companies from Sub-Saharan Africa to apply to the competition. We did more than participate, we reached the Final Round of the competition, which enabled us to attend the Green Solutions Award ceremony. The major outcome for us was to meet the Construction21 team who allowed me to meet other actors interested in sustainability. One week after going to the awards ceremony in Bonn, at World Climate Solutions in November 2017, I had three agreements signed with organizations I met at the event.
Participating in the Green Solutions Awards offers two valuable assets:
- Opportunities to present your work at international level events/conferences such as World Efficiency where I was invited in December 2017.
We did not win the Green Solutions Awards 2017 Grand Prize, but there is a beneficial ripple effect to the competition, thanks to all the great opportunities it opened to our company by connecting us with supporting organizations and companies.
You can enter the Green Solutions Awards 2018 until June 8!
Submit your exemplary building, district or infrastructure and publish your case study on Construction21
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