RURAL ELECTRIFICATION

With nearly half of Africa lacking access to electricity, a ratio that jumps to nearly 100% in rural areas, the opportunities for both on- and off-grid renewable power systems are enormous. In Niger, West Africa, the electrification rate is 25%, decreasing to 5% in its rural areas, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Niger’s government has recognised the importance of renewables as it seeks to strengthen its energy infrastructure and provide a sustainable power supply to its citizens. As the country works to define the role clean energy will play in its development, Phanes Group – an international solar developer, investment and asset manager, headquartered in Dubai, UAE – aims to continue supporting the process with examples of viable solutions such as the Boki Niger project.

In 2017, the Boki mini-grid pilot project was completed, making it a significant milestone in the development of Phanes Group’s rural electrification strategy. The total project costs were $250,000 pure equity financed by Phanes Group, with partners Jinko Solar providing the solar panels for this project for free. Working in partnership with Niger’s rural electrification agency ANPER (L’Agence Nigérienne de Promotion de l’Electrification en Milieu Rural), Phanes Group identified Boki as the ideal area for this pilot, with its strategic location and needs representative of many of the communities throughout the country.

The development has been operational since 2018 and represents a comprehensive approach to reaching communities not yet served by traditional utilities.

The Boki project consists of a 28 kWp mini-grid serving as a primary source of electricity for both communal areas and individual homes throughout the village. To date, 120 homes have been electrified, as well as a medical centre, a school, and a place of worship. The system provides electricity for day-to-day household needs, such as lighting, charging of mobile phones, as well as the use of appliances such as fans and radios.

The local school has been electrified, providing adequate lighting for lessons in the evening and allowing children and adults to continue with their education. Previously, during times of extreme heat, there was no alternative other than to cancel lessons rather than provide an evening alternative due to lack of quality lighting.

Electrifying Boki’s medical centre has provided a source of light across the facility, as well as enabling the use of key equipment. In particular, the system provides sustainable power for refrigeration – helping to preserve lives and the shelf life of medical supplies. The addition of four streetlamps has also made the community feel safer during the evenings so that they can take advantage of the benefits that power has given them.

Boki’s residents are proud to be the first village with access to electricity. In order to mitigate the social impact of bringing electricity to such a remote area, Phanes Group conducted many stakeholder engagement meetings with the Boki community to explain the project and understand how to mitigate the risk of social clashes; and to address any concerns they had. In addition, a committee chosen by the village chiefs is supporting Phanes Group to operate the project and collect the monthly revenues generated by the sale of the electricity generated.

The mini-grid has brought a positive impact to the community, as well as meeting the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of sustainability by improving quality of life, and supporting educational and medical facilities including increasing the possibilities for income generating activities.

Since the installation of the system, 25 small businesses have been set up and inhabitants from surrounding areas are also coming to Boki to launch their own activities. Many of Boki’s residents have also taken the opportunity to build businesses; for example, a welding shop has been set up with metal sheets used for rooftops now being manufactured locally.

The installation of 15 refrigerators in the village has given some households the ability to provide ice and cold water at lower prices than were offered previously. Boki’s residents, as well as the wider community, can now enjoy fresh fish, meat and milk at any time of the day. This project has not just enabled a community to thrive in an economic sense but has also drastically increased its chances of health and wellbeing.

Outside of Boki, villagers have used the opportunity to set up businesses and activities in the village – including two mechanical workshops and one tailor. The weekly market has expanded, bringing the wider community into Boki to trade and in addition, a night market has been extremely successful. On top of this, most of the project construction phase was done by local contractors managed by Phanes Group’s EPC department, bringing additional employment to the community.

The Boki pilot serves as a proof-of concept for PhanesGroup’s modular approach to rural electrification. Leveraging their technical and project development expertise, they have created a system comprising modular solutions (e.g. mini-grids, solar home systems, container based basic healthcare facilities and education centres) that can be produced on a mass scale, to address the energy needs of a particular region.