Africa’s Revolution: Increasing The Continent’s Power By Solar, Mobile Technology

Africa has moved on and its growing and innovative use of mobile technology is about to be channeled into addressing the continent’s power deficit by using cheap, renewable energy for sustainable development.

By Ayo Okulaja

Family house powered by Mobisol system. Illustration by Ulrike

This was the focus of a session: Green Technology in Practice – How To make Solar Energy Affordable at the just concluded 2013 Deutsche Welle Global media Forum in the city of Bonn, Germany.

Mobisol, a German start-up company is leading this power revolution which according to its 30-year old founder, Thomas Gottschalk “this revolution will be a peaceful one.”

There are about 1.2billion people in the world that are off-grid (not connected to power at all), Thomas identified this a huge market but these people cannot afford the very expensive renewable energy hence the invention of Mobisol solar home mobile system and its innovative mobile payment system.

The solar home mobile system is powered by a mobile phone which is remotely controlled from Germany once a client loads money on the phone via the mobile payment, the solar system is activated and power is supplied. All communication with customer is SMS based thereby reducing payment default.

According to Thomas, the company in its pilot scheme that has installed over 840 solar home mobile systems in remote areas of Kenya and Tanzania is helping people to save and wisely spend the money that normally goes on fossil fuel.

Another feature that moved Thomas’s audience was the capacity of the mobile payment to allow payment from anywhere in the world. “So if you don’t have the money and you have a son or daughter who is living abroad or in the city, so through mobile money, the relative can just make the payment and power switches on.”

Thomas identified that the age-long bottleneck challenge of payment on solar power has been addressed with the mobile payment innovation as well as maintenance as residents are being trained on how to carry out minor repairs on the panel and battery in case of any problems.

1000th Clients

To make the system very affordable, the solar panel and battery is pre-financed by Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungs-gesellschaft (DEG) as its payment is spread over 36months thereby making this a very affordable source of power.

A solar powered phone charging device created by Mobisol to further empower their clients. Photo by Ayo Okulaja

The Mobisol boss gave the assurance that so far the clients have been very faithful with their payments and no record of theft.

50-52 Mobisol solar home system are now installed weekly and Thomas reveals that the company is aiming for its 1000th customer this July.

Thank you China

Questions were asked on the impact China’s cheap solar panel has had on the price of solar technology and the panelists agreed that the Chinese have crashed the price with their inventions. Chairman of DEG’s Management Board, Bruno Wenn stated that “without the Chinese involvement, we would never have witnessed the sharp decrease in cost of the panels.”

He added that a research conducted by the European Union a decade ago predicted prices that are ten times what it is today for 2013

“We need to say thank you to China because they really-really pushed German companies to reduce their prices” added Thomas

He also enjoined European media and business to stop looking at Africa as a donor space but a fertile ground for immense economic growth. He noted that Africa is full with homes that are filled with solar panels that are not working after three – five months because the panels are provided by donor models.

It is time to develop a business model via modern and mobile technology as Mobisol is doing that will guarantee immense economic growth for Africa and investors who have failed to develop an adequate business model.

I asked Thomas why Mobisol is not yet in Nigeria with a population of over 160million people and generates less than 3000MW of electricity as a Kenyan colleague also asked why the company is not aiming for its 3,00000000th customer instead of 1000th.

He expressed the desire of his company to spread but warned that it must be cautious so as not to “break its neck if it spreads too fast” and this was further corroborated by Mr Wenn, who warned that “this is a start-up. There is a huge market in Africa and outside and you cannot expect that a start-up to tap all of it. They need to have more organic growth otherwise this business model will not be sustainable.”

The poignant impact of continued use of fossil fuel was accentuated by South African journalist, Alani Janeke, who revealed that about 400,000 hectares of the country’s most arable zone is about to be devastated due to coal mine.

Africa’s environment can key into the continent’s ongoing economic surge if the development is based on renewable energy and sustainable development for an inclusive growth as venture such as Mobisol will give President Obama and the US government, a run for their money.

The US President during his just concluded visit to the continent announced the sum of $7billion to be invested the powering the continent.

Global Economy Has Gone Rogue

The devastating model of the globalized economy if not quickly reversed will further harm the planet and lead to increasing loss of lives.

By Ayo Okulaja

Dr Vandana delivering her speech on earth's democracy at the 2013 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. Photo by David Andersson

Indian environmental activist and anti-globalisation campaigner; Dr. Vandana Shiva, made this known at her keynote address on the final day of the 2013 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, where she spoke about the values required for a new economic model that respects the planet and all species of life.

According to her, the global economy is like a herd of elephants gone rogue. “I’ve watched elephants that have gone rogue; they leave the herd and just destroy.”

“An economy has gone rogue under globalisation, because it’s no more grounded in the ecological limits of the planet.  It’s no more grounded in the human rights and human dignity of the last child, the last woman, the last person” she explained.

Limitless Growth, Limited Planet

Warning against the lack of caution in the globalized economic model which seeks growth at all cost, the environmental activist stated that such insatiable quest has led the world to an economy of greed and such is leading to the collapse of not just the ecosystem but our societies.

“An economy of greed must be based on theft and sadly greed has been made the only value of our times.  We are witnessing what it is costing us.  We are witnessing how ecosystem after ecosystem is under collapse” she said.

She further explains that “we’ve come up with this strange idea of limitless growth on a limited planet.  It’s ecologically false, it’s physically false, it’s biologically false and it’s socially unjust because there’s a very ancient text from India that reminds us that if you take more than you need, you are stealing, because some other being, some other person, all the future generations have a right to those resources.”

Citing an example of how the ecology and economy are interwoven, Dr Shiva narrated how collaboration between a German forester and British timber companies exploited India’s timber forest despite protest by peasant women in the 60’s against disrupting the connection between forest and water.

She referred to the timber exploitation as ‘timber mines’, saying “in ’72, we had a horrible flood and the women came out and said these trees protect us.  They prevent the landslides, they prevent the flooding, they give us food, they give us fodder, they are our mothers and you can’t cut them.”

“In another decade, the floods came again and the Indian government realised what the women were saying was true because by then, the government was putting out more money for flood relief than they were getting out of timber revenues and after that a logging ban was put in the catchments of the Ganges and the Yamuna, the area where I come from.”

“The forest was saved from logging but the frenzy of globalisation, of speed, of building super-highways in the fragile Himalayas, dams, saying that electricity was the biggest produce of the mountains, not the water of the rivers.  It’s created a situation that across the mountains in my regions we have landslides and when the first rain came this year 4 days ago all of that rubble came down, filled the rivers.”

The death toll of this year’s monsoon flood in India’s Uttarakhand district has risen to over a thousand with nearly 3,000 people still missing.

A displeased Shiva stated that she’s never seen anything like this “our farm is under one foot of water.  Agriculture is going to be devastated this year.  Why?  Because we’re still carrying such an outmoded idea of the Earth and the economy.”

She further blamed the global markets preference for cheap goods tracing its source to the growing suicide of farmers who grow cotton and are now killed by debts.

“This was taken then to Bangladesh and China and then the women get burnt in fires and then you get cheap clothing, just like you get cheap food, because the costs have not been internalised.”

Earth Democracy

She enjoined the media to re-define the conversation about globalization as she disagreed with the repeated notion that intensification will feed the world “but they never clarify intensification of what?”  the environmental activist asked.

“Intensification of fossil fuels actually creates a very inefficient system; 10 units are put in to get one unit out.  Ecological systems use one unit to produce 2 units of food.  That’s the way we can double the production of food without harming the planet” she advised.

Dr Shiva also condemned the carefree use of planet earth as an inert raw material. “We don’t treat our planetary home as our home; we treat it as just raw material, dead, inert.  We couldn’t have had the rise of mechanistic science without declaring nature as dead.”

She finished her speech expressing the optimism about a growing change that seeks to challenge the global norm with the development of the occupy movement of 1% against the 99%.

She however noted that a surveillance system is being built to try and make sure that the 99% doesn’t have its way, referring to the Edward Snowden PRISM controversy.

But “a 1% rule has never lasted. It must be 100% participation, not just of every human being but every species on this planet.  That’s the Earth democracy we need to create” she concluded.

Germany Demands More Permanent Members For UN Security Council

The German Foreign Affairs Minister, Guido Westerwelle has made a strong case for the inclusion of African nations and Latin American countries with more Asian countries in the United Nations Security Council.

According to the Minister, the inclusion of more member nations in the Security Council will enhance the capacity and authority of the international organization in addressing and avoiding conflicts of today’s world.

Westerwelle made this known during his remarks to questions from journalists after his keynote address at the 2013 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in the United Nations city of Bonn, Germany.

Mr Westerwelle noted that all the United Nations institutions as they are, still reflect how the world was after the Second World War and these institutions need urgent reforms to reflect the dimension of today’s globalized world with emerging nations.

“The United Nations reflect in their structures, the world, how it was after World War Two but it is not the current reflection and the fact that all Latin America is not represented permanently in the Security Council of the United Nations with one voice, doesn’t have anything to do with the world of today.”

“These are old structures” he stated to a rousing applause from the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the fact that the whole of the African continent not doesn’t have a single voice, doesn’t have a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations is the world of the past and not of today and not even anything of the future” he told over 2,000 journalists at the World Conference centre in Bonn.

He further decried that “the whole of Asian continent has only one voice, the voice of China in the UN Security Council.

This, he noted “doesn’t reflect the power of relation in the world we are living in and it reflects the situation when the United Nations were established and not really future development.”

The Minister called for the reform of all international organisations to be more representative, warning that not doing so will only ‘weaken’ the institutions.

“The international institutions of the world have to be more representative. If they are not representative, we will weaken them.”

“So all the continents, all success stories has to reflect in all international organization, only then will this international organization have sufficient authority in the world to avoid and overcome conflict.”

The United Nations Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action.

There are 15 members of the Security Council. This includes five veto-wielding permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—based on the great powers that were the victors of World War II.

There are also 10 non-permanent members, with five elected each year to serve two-year terms. This basic structure is set out in Chapter V of the UN Charter.

Nigeria is currently in the forefront of demanding reforms of the UN Security Council as it seeks to take the African slot for a permanent seat with contemporaries such as South Africa and Egypt.

Classical Relationship

Mr Westerwelle also revealed that the German government under Angela Merkel has agreed to further intensify its relationship with African nations, describing the partnership as a ‘classical relationship’ which must “be intensified.”

He described as it as “linking up with the new powers of the world in a strategic way.”

By Ayo Okulaja