Blockchain helps electrify an African community with renewable power
Like a network of rivers, tributaries and creeks, power stations, transmission towers and lines of electrical grids branch out to feed the African economy. In remote areas where they don’t extend – well, business opportunities often dry up. For one rural village in Senegal, a group of Siemens Energy employees is trying to make a change with blockchain-based crowdfunding and a decentralized solar plant that can power an entire community.
By Janine Stephen
Less than 90 kilometers away from Senegal’s seventh-largest city, the southern village of Bacco Ndieme has no transmission towers or lines. Trees dot the savannah landscape, simple huts, outbuildings, a few homes, a school. The dirty diesel generators providing a lucky few with power to pump water into homes or fields are expensive. Apart from that, however, there is no electricity. This means most villagers can’t use electric pumps to raise groundwater for essential crops, grain must be ground by hand, and health and education services along with business opportunities can’t flourish. It’s not only Bacco Ndieme. Around 600 million people across sub-Saharan Africa have little access to electricity – a fact that inspired a group of Siemens Energy employees to make a change.
“Solar power in a box” and blockchain: a decentralized power solution with decentralized funding
Together with Africa GreenTec Help e.V., they’re trying to raise funding via the Internet for the installation of a decentralized solar plant in Bacco Ndieme that unfolds from a single shipping container. Africa GreenTec has already electrified over 20 remote villages using this “solar power in a box” solution, which has battery storage for off-peak hours and a microgrid as well as smart meters to manage billing. As many as 3,000 people in the village could benefit from a “Solartainer®.”
At first look, the project initiated by the employees recalls a conventional crowdfunding drive. Christened #connect2evolve, it harvests goodwill: Individual investors donate what they can afford, starting at 10 euros. But unlike a traditional crowdfunding platform #connect2evolve uses blockchain to manage donations. The distributed ledger technology offers notable benefits. Independent of any banking system or intermediary, blockchain-based funding is democratic, secure and provides the kind of transparency many investors dream of. Because all transactions are recorded and traceable, funds are less vulnerable to error or corruption.
'' With solar energy, young people will have a future in our village. '''Oumar Ba, mayor of Bacco Ndieme, Senegal
Measure your impact and watch the kWh tick up
Donors can also “see” their contribution take shape. The #connect2evolve protocol creates “impact tokens” that measure how many kilowatt-hours of clean energy are delivered – and carbon emissions prevented – by each amount “invested.” This can be tracked online, giving donors a genuine connection to the village, and regular feedback that few crowdfunding projects can guarantee.
As Karim Amin, CEO of Power Generation at Siemens Energy, puts it, the innovative project allows private people to invest in energy supply. It seems that blockchain fundraising, with tokens programmed to ensure compliance with regulatory criteria, could potentially unlock innovative funding solutions for larger power investment projects in the future. Communities themselves could invest in local electrification projects, with less risk and cost – as could innovative investors.
Right now, however, the focus is on bringing power to Bacco Ndieme. “Every child should have the possibility of being connected to the Internet, having access to education, better healthcare, and culture,” says mayor Oumar Ba. “With solar energy, young people will have a future in our village.”
May 8, 2020
Based in South Africa, Janine Stephen is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in international and local publications such as South Africa’sThe Sunday Times.
Combined picture credits: Siemens Energy