Only about 13% of the population in rural areas in Mali have access to electricity according to the the World Bank (stats from 2009). Changing this is part of the vision of Mobile Solarkraftwerke Afrika. Mobile Solarkraftwerke Afrika wants to provide the village Mourdiah in Mali (Western Africa) with electricity. 

A crowdfunding campaign on bettervest was launched to make this possible. Investments are possible from €50. More than 80% of the funding goal was already crowdfunded within 3 days. Today, I’ve got an exclusive interview with Charlie Njonmou, CEO of Solarkraftwerke Afrika GmbH & Co. KG for you.

Interview with Charlie Njonmou, CEO of Solarkraftwerke Afrika GmbH & Co. KG, Mali

Charlie Njonmou, CEO of Mobile Solarkraftwerke Afrika

1. You are planning the world’s first mobile solar power plant in Africa – Please tell us more about it! How did this idea develop and what is your aim?

Currently in many regions of Africa there is no electric power grid at all, or electricity is provided, by using expensive Diesel generators. In Mali for example the state owned energy provider EDM covers only 17% of the country, most of it in the three biggest cities. Access to clean energy could open new opportunities for a lot of families and small businesses. So when I heard about the possibility to construct mobile solar power plants I was directly inspired and thought: This would be a great opportunity for Africa.

2. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world – What made you decide to pilot this idea in the Nara region in Mali?

Our team has very strong ties to Africa, especially Mali, and when visiting Mali and explaining our idea to several people, we were able to convince the former president of Mali, Dioncounda Traoré, to support this project. His home region is Nara and for a pilot project it is great to have such a famous supporter. Like most of the rural areas, Nara is not connected to any kind of power grid. There is either no electricity at all or Diesel generators are used, which pollute the environment and are very loud and the people have to buy expensive Diesel fuel. For those reasons, this region is the perfect spot to start our project.  

3. For those of us that are not really acquainted with solar or wind power plants – could you please explain how this mobile solar power plant works? Does it mean it can or will move after a certain time to another location?

The power plants are engineered and built in Germany. They will be transported to the communities in Mali and installed. It works more or less like a Plug & Play System. There is no special engineering knowledge needed by the village. The containers can expand “wings” like a satellite, where the solar modules are installed. The solar modules can produce between 27 and 55 kWh power and the containers will also be equipped with an innovative windmill that can produce energy during the night. A very strong battery also stores power, which can be used during the night. The mobility of the container is an advantage from the beginning: It helps us to transport and install the containers relatively quickly even in remote regions. When the container is setup successfully and everything works as planned, it could stay in the region for 10 years or as long as needed. To move it again is still an option in case the situation in the region changes. In that case, we can react quickly and move it to another location.

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4. As I understood, you developed a model where the local population is paying a monthly rate for about 7-10 years to pay off the mobile power plant. Was it difficult to “convince” the stakeholders in Africa to buy in this idea? Please tell us more about this!

Good question, but a quick and honest answer: No, it was not difficult at all to convince them. A village would never be able to pay the total cost of a container at once. So this rental system is a very smart approach for both sides. Actually the population was already celebrating when they heard about our plans and when we visited the region, we were greeted with great enthusiasm.

5. What’s the social or ecological impact of this solar power plant? What are the benefits for the local community?

Other projects in the sub-Saharan region have shown that up to ⅓ of the people, who did not have any access to energy before, had a profession afterwards and earned approx. EUR 350 per year. With this funding, you can support sustainable growth in a region where it is really needed. Schools and hospitals can be run more efficiently, refrigeration units can be installed to store food and milk.

6. What are your future plans if this pilot proved successful? Expanding to other regions in Africa?

You are right. From our point of view, this is just the beginning. Our vision is to install up to 10 Container per year in Mali and the same amount in other countries too and help more and more people and the environment. But this is only possible if we can do some groundwork on pilot projects. The experience and know how we will gain with this pilot will help us to improve the implementation of many more containers and lead to a sustainable growth of the company and the number of containers (and therefore supply more people with green energy) in Africa. Empfang_des_Projekteams

7. On Thursday, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on bettervest to fund this project. What is the aim of the campaign and what are potential risks for the “micro-investors”?

The aim is to fund our first container for the before mentioned region in Nara and to involve a large crowd in this attractive and sustainable project. Even if we try to mitigate all risks, you are right to ask about them. In case of financial problems or even bankruptcy of our company, the investor always faces the financial risk of delayed dividend payouts or in a worst-case scenario even the total loss of their investment.

8. Lastly, how can people support this initiative or/and stay informed about recent developments?

If you have not invested yet and the funding limit is reached, please support our project on www.bettervest.de. Even if this project is already funded, we are already planning additional campaigns, so you will have further opportunities to join this cause. The latest developments and opportunities will be available at http://solarcontainer.org/ and also on Facebook. Please join us as a supporter, because we have a very active community.