Winners of the annual Ashden Awards, which have been made since 2001, provide policy-makers, businesses and communities across the globe with pioneering real-life examples of how sustainable energy can be supplied, using local clean energy technologies and clever marketing strategies.
The 2013 International Ashden Award winners included the four African initiatives that have met the energy needs of the poor in a way that radically improves lives, drives economic growth, cuts carbon dioxide emissions and saves trees.
1. International Gold Award
The UK charity SolarAid was founded in 2006, with the aim of bringing clean solar energy to around 590m Africans that live off the electric grid. It started selling solar lights in 2007, and set up SunnyMoney in 2010 as an independently-registered entity to drive forward these sales.
“By the end of March 2013, SunnyMoney had sold 408,101 solar lights with 57% of sales in Tanzania (where our school campaign started first, in late 2010), 27% in Kenya (where we started in 2012), and the remaining 16% in Malawi and Zambia where campaigns are at an earlier stage,” says Pippa Palmer, MD of SolarAid.
SunnyMoney is currently launching operations in Senegal and aims to start in another new country before the end of the year. According to Palmer, its long term aim is to be active in 24 countries by 2020, in order to eliminate the use of kerosene lamps from the continent. “With around 390,000 lights currently in use, 2m household members benefit from better quality light without kerosene fumes. Replacement of kerosene lamps is saving about 15m litres/year of kerosene, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 36,000t/year of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Business model and costs
“In each country, the starting point is a schools campaign – working with a group of 20-80 head teachers at a time in rural areas – to raise awareness of the benefits of solar lighting and the SunnyMoney brand. Teachers are offered an incentive of a free study light for every 40 orders collected in their school, or a larger light for 80 orders,” she says.
“This is followed by direct sales, which have already started in Tanzania and Kenya, and give people the chance to save up to buy an additional light or to replace a light that has reached the end of its battery life. These sales are particularly useful if the schools campaign runs at a time when money is very tight. For instance, just after school fees have been paid, or just before harvest.
“At present, prices during the school campaign range from about $7.50 for the DLight S2 up to $40 for the larger lights. Prices vary somewhat from country to country, and there is sometimes a subsidy during a campaign. Prices are 15-20% higher for direct sales, since these are not subsidised, and must cover the cost of transport,” Palmer explains. “A key pricing strategy is not to skew the market prior to it maturing, since it would be difficult for a developing country to recover from this. Currently all sales are cash in advance, but we are looking at a number of options for making staged payments.”
She adds that the price also includes a warranty that ranges from six months to two years depending on the product bought. “The expected product lifetime used to be around two years when NiCd batteries were used, but current models have LiFePO4 batteries with an anticipated life expectancy of five years or more. A SunnyMoney sticker on each light gives the local phone number to contact to fulfil the warranty, or to assist with any other queries.”
Procurement and quality control
According to Palmer, SunnyMoney views competitive procurement as a way to improve the solar lighting sector as a whole, as well as to source the best products for customers. Currently its main lights are the S2 model (from DLight) which SunnyMoney promotes as the lowest-cost study light for students, and the larger SunKing Pro (from Greenlight Planet) which also charges phones. The organisation also promotes small solar home systems from Barefoot Power.
“All products must meet Lighting Africa minimum quality standards and recommended performance targets, and also go through a SolarAid internal approval process. SunnyMoney purchases full containers of lights, and checks a batch from each container before distribution,” she states.
“In 2012, we ran our first competitive procurement process, to seek what we wanted in the next generation of study lights, based on in-field experience and customer feedback. Products submitted were ranked on 20 criteria (including technical, cost, ease of packing and shipping, lifetime and warranty), and after successful field trials, we will order a pilot batch of the top-ranked light.”
Once school campaigns and direct sales are well established in a country, SunnyMoney intends to establish a more permanent local presence by training rural distributors and developing outlets in small towns. Palmer says that these outlets will sell products like solar lights, efficient stoves and water filters under the SunnyMoney brand, and also provide repair and warranty-fulfilment services at a local level.
“Once it reaches profit, SunnyMoney will trade fully as an independent enterprise in each country, with SolarAid an active partner, in particular supporting the solar light sector as a whole and funding research,” she says. “SunnyMoney will continue to be owned by SolarAid and profits will be re-invested by SolarAid into ventures (including SunnyMoney) that are consistent with our charity’s vision of a world where everyone has access to clean, renewable energy.”
2. Award for Financial Innovation
Impact Carbon, a US-based not-for-profit company, which has a registered office in Uganda, works directly with partners in Africa and Asia to identify, develop and implement carbon finance projects that enable more people to access improved technologies such as low air pollution charcoal and wood burning stoves, biomass gasification stoves, water filters and other water treatment systems.
• Charcoal stoves. Executive director Evan Haigler explains that Impact Carbon works with five local manufacturers of efficient charcoal stoves in Uganda. “These stoves have metal bodies and perforated ceramic liners, and are made in small factories and workshops. The ceramic reduces heat loss and this, along with the ability to control air-flow, makes them more efficient than traditional all-metal stoves. Cutting charcoal use reduces greenhouse gas emissions, since charcoal in Uganda comes from largely unsustainable wood. Direct implementation partners employ about 300 staff and support 880 stove retailers, while further employment is provided in their distribution chains.”
• Wood stoves. Impact Carbon works with Potential Energy to distribute efficient wood stoves, and with Practical Action to provide water purification technologies to families living in conflict-affected areas in Darfur. “The Berkeley-Darfur wood stove is specifically designed for displaced households in the Darfur environment. It uses 65% less wood than traditional cooking, thus avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing indoor air pollution,” Haigler states.
• Water treatment systems. Impact Carbon has begun projects in Uganda and Rwanda to disseminate water treatment systems which provide safe drinking water without the need for boiling, thus cutting the use of wood and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Technologies include household-scale filters, and larger-scale filters, chemical dispensers and boreholes. In addition, we work with local partners in Kenya to support distribution of household filters and chemical treatment systems,” he says.
During project implementation, Impact Carbon uses carbon revenue to help people access improved technologies in different ways, as needed.
“For the stove businesses in Uganda, this includes sourcing and bulk-purchasing many of the materials needed to manufacture the stoves. This gets better prices and allows the businesses to maintain consistent quality.
“Carbon revenue is also used to develop local businesses and make them more efficient, usually on a cost-sharing basis. This could include buying land or machinery, upgrading software, improving health and safety measures, market research, and marketing.
“Businesses can also be provided with regular contributions towards costs such as overheads and marketing. In Uganda, one of our important roles has been to help find stove distribution partners, and train them on how to promote and use the stoves,” Haigler explains.
Through its direct implementation projects, Impact Carbon has facilitated the distribution of over 340,000 improved cooking stoves (225,000 charcoal, 22,000 wood and 95,000 biomass-gasifier) and piloted 70 water treatment systems. “Monitoring, which is a pre-requisite for receiving carbon revenue, indicates that approximately 300,000 of these stoves and all water treatment systems are currently in use, benefitting more than 1.5m people. It also provides an opportunity to show end-users how to look after the technology and where to go with problems as well as useful information on the long term performance and lifetime of technology, which can guide further product and project design improvement. In Uganda, for example, monitoring has shown that more than 50% of improved charcoal stoves are still in use after seven years,” he says.
Impact Carbon will continue to work with partners to cut production costs and scale up rapidly, so that technology can be affordable without carbon subsidies. According to Haigler, this process will include exploring sustainable models of product distribution using new marketing techniques and consumer finance.
3. Award for Innovation
UK-based start-up Azuri Technologies has developed a pay-as-you-go interface, which allows off-grid households in Kenya to pay for the solar energy that they use with scratch cards, avoiding the need for microfinancing the $70 system.
CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth explains that users pay an initial fee of about $10 to have the Indigo Duo system, which powers two LED lights and a mobile phone charger, installed in their home by a dealer who is also responsible for providing after-sales service in the local area (working to Azuri specifications) and selling scratch cards.
The Indigo pay-as-you-go controller allows power to the sockets only when the system has been unlocked by entering a valid code on the keypad. The code is obtained by sending a scratch card number along with the serial number of the Indigo unit by SMS to an Azuri in-country gateway that relays the information to the Azuri central server. A return SMS then provides the code.
Bransfield-Garth says that scratch cards can be purchased for one-week (at about $1.50) or four-week activation. “These are either physical cards bought for cash from dealers or local resellers, or scratch card numbers bought by mobile phone, using a mobile money system.
“After 80 payments, users can pay a fee of about $5 to have their system permanently unlocked. Alternatively, they will soon be able to trade up to a larger system called the 5 Wp Indigo Quad system, which provides four lights, a USB port, phone charging leads and a radio. For those wanting to set up a small phone-charging business, they can continue weekly payments for the Indigo Mobi, a 30 Wp system providing 11 USB ports.”
Commercial sales started in 2012, and by the end of March 2013 around 5,000 systems had been delivered to dealers – with 2,400 of these already installed and activated.
Thanks to loan finance ($1.7m from Barclays and $0.75m from the AECF) and $1m grant finance, Azuri is scaling up rapidly. In addition to nearly 6,000 systems currently in manufacture, a further 33,000 have been ordered so far for delivery during 2013. Bransfield-Garth believes that this will lead to significant Azuri operations in Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well as initial activities in several West African countries.
4. Award for Avoided Deforestation
Goma is a rapidly-growing city in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Incomes are low, so most people use simple charcoal stoves for cooking. But about 80% of the charcoal was produced illegally in the nearby Virunga National Park – an area of huge importance for biodiversity, and home to endangered mountain gorillas.
So in 2008 WWF, a major international NGO, set about tackling illegal charcoal production in Virunga in ways that would benefit local people. In 2009 it established local production of efficient stoves to cut the use of charcoal, and helped to start small plantations (an average of 2.5ha per individual farmer) to supply wood for charcoal production on a sustainable basis. Juan Seve, head of WWF in DRC Eastern Region explains that the Jiko Nguvu Nyeusi (Black Power Stove) has a perforated ceramic liner, which is cemented into a cylindrical metal body with pot rests, carrying handles and an air-control vent.
“From July 2009 to the end of March 2013, a total of 44,622 Nguvu Nyeusi were produced by associations affiliated with WWF. Sales records show that 24,406 of these stoves were sold in Goma, and the rest to traders for sale elsewhere in the DRC. Assuming a lifetime of two years, about 28,000 stoves are currently in use, of which 16,000 are in Goma. With an average household size of six people and 1.33 stoves per household, about 120,000 people are benefitting,” says Seve. “Standard-sized Nguvu Nyeusi stoves retail for about $5; Reseau des Producteurs des Foyers Culinaires Ameliores (REPROFCA) stoves, with insulation around the ceramic and a cement base, for about $10; and larger household models for up to $15. Institution-sized stoves are also available for up to $30. Customers pay the full amount upfront in cash.”
“Stoves made by WWF affiliates are currently saving about 14,000t/year of charcoal. This means that they will protect about 4,200ha of forest from degradation in 2013. Crucially for WWF, around 1,800ha of this forest is in Virunga,” he states. “But our 2011 survey results suggest that the impact of the WWF work is much greater, because of non-affiliated producers using the WWF design. Use of their stoves in Goma saves an additional 11,000t/year of charcoal and thus protects a further 3,300ha of forest in 2013, of which 2,700ha is in Virunga.”
Seve adds that the stove programme has generated significant local employment and income, particularly for women. “The 63 associations WWF works with in Goma have over 800 members – about 600 women and 200 men. Associations operate piece work and fix their own rates, with women earning about $1 per completed stove, and men about $0.50 per stove body. Producers outside the WWF programme are also benefitting.”
WWF helped associations obtain materials through bulk purchase and working capital loans; this is now managed through the trade association REPROFCA, which was set up in 2012. “WWF has made a $20,000 interest-free loan to the association, for this purpose. We will move to a more advisory role in Goma, and expand the production project to new areas, initially towns in the northern part of North Kivu province,” he states.
The plantation programme has also made significant progress – 3,900ha of land is currently under plantation, and commercial harvesting will start in 2013. “The current plantations will be supplying about 12,000t of charcoal annually by 2015 when they are in full production. Recent funding will enable additional planting to take place over the next few years, and thus increase this supply,” Seve concludes.