Green tech ventures are on the rise in Europe and the US. In 2021 alone, they raised over $111 billion globally. Their main goal is to reduce emissions and “remove carbon from the atmosphere”, accelerating the transition towards net zero emissions. Green tech has a different role in Africa, the poorest continent. Africa accounts for only 3.8% of annual global carbon emissions. Most of its population has a minimal environmental impact. The main goal of green tech is to find a way to adapt to a changing climate while developing Africa’s economy sustainably.
Nthabiseng Mosia, Co-founder and CCO of Easy Solar, a solar energy company, recalls that regular blackouts were a norm while she studied in high school in South Africa. “The first time you realise something is a privilege is when you don’t have it,” she observes.
As the economy was struggling to recover after the Ebola pandemic, grid electricity became “a far-off proposition”. There had been numerous promises of installing electricity in the countryside. None of them, however, were fulfilled. This resulted in “a deep sense of distrust”, Mosia says.
To address this gap, Easy Solar started selling modular ‘plug and play’ solar kits. These include simple solar torches up to roof-top panels that can power such household appliances as fridges or TVs. To make solar kits accessible, most of them are sold on a rent-to-buy basis.
Easy Solar has already brought energy to 720,000 people. As 60% of Africa’s population is still without electricity, it is a market with excellent growth potential. Mosa is unsure if it is a sign of Africa’s ability to develop its economy without burning carbon. She believes that Africans have the advantage of “looking forward and backwards at the same time”. “But it’s unfair to expect us to follow a model that nobody has ever done and rise above a problem we didn’t create,” she notes.
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In December 2021, the City of Cape Town, South Africa, in partnership with the Atlantis Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for green technologies, and the Lulalab Foundation, launched the project of installing 100 solar geysers at Witsands and Pella, Atlantis. The project aims to provide residents with access to warm water by utilizing solar power.
Each geyser is made of five 2 litre recycled plastic bottles set into a casing attached to a 50 litre water drum heated by the sun and connected to an existing tap. If a tap is not available, the drum will be filled by entrepreneurs responsible for maintenance and installations.
Councillor Beverley van Reenan stresses the importance of innovation to Cape Town and other urban centres in South Africa. She notes that such projects as this one help decrease poverty in low-income households. Therefore, they are important not only in terms of economic gains but also in terms of living standards.
CrossBoundary Energy Access (CBEA), a Kenya-based mini-grid infrastructure investor, has raised $25 million from ARCH Emerging Markets Partners Limited, Bank of America and Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund to finance renewable energy projects across Africa. This capital is especially significant to the Sub-Saharan region, which “accounts for 75% of the world’s population with no access to electricity”.
“This is a crucial step for CrossBoundary Energy Access towards unlocking the private and public capital needed to scale the mini-grid sector. We look forward to mobilizing this investment to bring the projects in our pipeline to life, and providing power to African homes and businesses through these distributed renewable assets,” says Humphrey Wireko, Managing Director of CBEA.
The World Bank claims that “mini-grids have the potential to provide half a billion people with clean energy by the end of this decade” if the right policies are introduced. Developing mini-grid infrastructure is significant as it provides “cleaner and cheaper alternatives of energy”.