USA – The United Nations human settlements programme, UN-Habitat, and Portuguese energy company EDP, are constructing a solar energy system to supply clean, renewable energy to 12 classrooms in Namacurra district, in the Zambezia province of Mozambique, some 1,500 km from the capital Maputo.
Namacurra district has for some years lacked basic services such as schools, health centres and electricity and connecting the district to the electricity grid had proved to be time-consuming and expensive.
Now the new UN-backed clean energy initiative is expected to quickly change the outlook for Namacurra, and kick-start sustainable development for the benefit of the thousands of people, relocated to the area following the devastating rains of 2015. The initiative could also give hope to other economically disadvantaged parts of Africa.
The solar energy system to be set up by EDP will not only enable some 1,300 students to study at night but also allow people living in the area to charge their mobile phones and access the internet for a small fee.
The availability of electricity in Namacurra will also enable the local community to receive SMS alerts sent out by the government as part of an early-warning system for cyclones and floods.
“As long as you can provide this service at a school, people will at least have access to communication with the outside world, which is the main handicap when an emergency strikes”, recounts Juan Hurtato Martinez, UN-Habitat architect and manager of the project. “So, it ensures that, in an emergency, they can receive the alarms quickly."
EDP sees the solar energy system as a sensible investment in Africa, in line with the UN’s call for companies to play their part in the move to a green economy.
"The African continent is surely the continent with more natural resources – such as the sun, wind, water, biomass and others – that allow the use of renewable energies,” says Guilherme Collares Pereira, director of international relations at EDP. “Therefore, it makes total sense to intervene in the market that has resources and that has the needs.”
Pereira also points out that some 600 million people in Africa are without access to electricity adding that it has been more than proven that renewable energies can enable, in a cheaper, faster and more efficient way, universal energy access to be achieved.
The project in the district of Namacurra is one of six, in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, that will be receiving support from EDP.
At the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, which hosts more than 186,000 people, a mini-grid will supply pay-as-you-go electricity to refugees according to their consumption needs.
“It is a very interesting approach that can be replicated throughout the camp,” says Pereira, “but it can also be replicated in other refugee camps, not only in the Horn of Africa but all over the world.”
Pereira also explains that ten years ago, when EDP began involvement with these UN-backed projects, the company was guided more by their corporate responsibility policy, but nowadays it is more about business.
In 2018 the company decided to invest €12 million in companies that are already working with renewable energy in East Africa.
“At the moment, they are not as profitable as traditional EDP businesses,” Pereira notes, “but this is a journey, and we are discovering how the process develops. So, in the next couple of years, when we are ready, we can invest in more companies and grow them in preparation for entry into other markets.”
Noting the enormous potential in Africa and that renewable energy technology is getting better, more efficient and more resilient, Pereira also says, “There is also an abundance of mechanisms and even financing from countries and the international community to support these projects. Everything is in place for its growth and it is imperative that the private sector enters this market."