Productive Use of DC Solar Power in Africa to Improve the Quality of Rural Life

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Wolfson Sch of Mech, Elec & Manufac Eng


Experience shows Africans in rural settings value outcomes (e.g., light, TV, refrigeration, productive use of power, water pumping and irrigation, agri-processing) & not simply access to electricity. Because of the high rates of poverty in rural Africa and the cultural inhibition to saving, access to energy is of no value unless appliances and equipment are included in a PAYG or leasing plan. This project provides the R&D to create a complete range of high-efficiency, appliances (generally DC), and equipment that match these PAYG controlled Solar/battery Power Systems (SPS).
The concept is design to create jobs, improve incomes, and expand the local economy. This will focus on the productive use of power that increases the productivity and value add for rural smallholders and micro-enterprises. An innovative business concept of leasing (with no deposit) Businesses-in-a-BoxTM (BinaB) has been developed. Each BinaB will comprise of 3 aspects:
Physical hardware comprising high-efficiency DC end-use equipment coupled to a modular and upgradeable PAYG solar power system sized to meet the required duty cycle and sharing commonality of parts.
A business model demonstrating economic viability both for African business and the Distributed Energy Services Company (Africa Power and SAfP) (DESCO) leasing the systems
Support services including as appropriate: training, business expertise (e.g. agronomist for drip feed irrigation), access to relevant business inputs, complete on-going maintenance, and refurbishment.
The plan is to source, adapt and/or develop equipment that meets the specification and test for viability. Prototypes will be deployed to Tanzania to test the business model and develop the required service packages in conjunction with relevant business partners. This will involve running equipment tests and economic models in multiple iterations of size and ways of use, product improvements, with the expectation that we will produce working PROTOTYPES for 4-6 businesses systems, with full business model evaluations for both customers and the DESCO. Around 50-100 BETA test units will be manufactured and field trialed and reported with sufficiently innovative designs be protected by patents, design rights, copyright, and/or trademarks.
In addition, the range of solar power systems (SPS) will be extended. A unique feature of these series is that systems can be field upgraded by adding multiple PV panels, expanding the size of the box, inserting a larger battery, and approximately every second upgrade adding daughter control boards to handle the increased power draw and currents. This keeps the small systems low cost, whilst having full capability at larger systems with maximum re-use of the smaller systems components. Systems will be designed and tested with 50-100 BETA trial systems for each of the sizes developed. Furthermore, the PAYG system will have new apps and software packages delivered with full specification & user manual documents.
As well as the BinaB systems, upgradable domestic solar home systems, making use of the extended range of SPS, will be developed with lower costs by sourcing efficient, cheap but robust appliances (small fridges, fans, lights, mosquito repellents), low maintenance batteries and denser packaging to reduce shipping costs. Prototypes will be manufactured in different size configurations (100-200) for BETA field trials in Tanzania.
All the above new products will increase the revenue and profitability (and Energy Access in SSA) of the DESCO's in Africa including Africa Power's subsidiary companies including increased sales of its PAYG software and support services. Africa Power (UK) sources all the products for its subsidiaries with appropriate transfer pricing, thus increasing revenue and profits in UK. Cost reductions can be used to increase sales by attracting a poorer demographic or increase profits or a combination thereof.

Planned Impact

The main impacts of this work as they relate to the different beneficiary groups are:
To provide a long term, resilient, sustainable sources of solar electricity to increase affordable energy access.
- Local communities with no access to electricity
- Local communities with limited access to electricity who want to upgrade their
- Local communities with unreliable or sporadic access to electricity and want to increase the reliability to undertake productive activities.
This could enable life style improvements including but not limited to, benefits as cooling, lighting, communications and improving gender equality. This could lead to improved income from mechanisms such as running a small business from home or the use of electric tools in micro enterprises through to increased productivity.

- Off-grid generation owners and operators and community energy service companies: The evolution of the systems to deal with more available distribution allows for less commercial uncertainty and better planning statistics to be made available to aid development and growth opportunities for BinaB and SHS.

- Policymakers and advisors: Councils and Government policy makers will benefit because the ramifications of this work will affect the way that the market and incentive schemes could change in the face of the research and could encourage further or modified development patterns to enhance energy access.

- SMEs and entrepreneurs: The project will support the development of manufacturing and supply chain capabilities in this sector. It will build training capacity with a focus on disadvantaged groups including supporting women to develop business opportunities and generate income.

This research offers the opportunity to revolutionise the development of offgrid energy access in developing countries over the next 10 to 50 years. Following a successful rollout within Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda, the project team would seek to publicise the methodology both nationally and internationally to encourage deployment.


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Description We are still in the early stages of the project and not at a stage for wider societal impacts, see project plan document in bid. We have solved some technical electronic problems with the energy devices that are going to be used by end users to make them more reliable.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Electronics,Energy