Harnessing solar power to drive a sustainable environment for Africa
The critical need for alternatives to the current electricity shortage problem has prompted companies like Samsung Electronics Africa to develop products, under their Built For Africa umbrella, that capitalise on the sun’s energy. “The number of sunny days per annum is high for the African continent. With approximately 2 500 hours of sunshine per year, and an average solar-radiation level ranging between 4.5 and 6.5 kWh/m2 in one day, this places the continent in a very favourable position,” says Thierry Boulanger, IT Solutions and Business to Business lead at Samsung Electronics Africa.
“The annual 24-hour global solar radiation average is about 220 W/m2 in Africa compared to about150 W/m2 for parts of the USA, and about 100 W/m2 for Europe and the United Kingdom. It makes perfect sense to exploit this free, renewable and environmentally friendly resource to improve the lives of Africa’s inhabitants,” he adds.
Samsung Electronics’ research team paid specific attention to solutions which are cost-effective, mobile, easy to set up and which are suited to the harsh climatic conditions of Africa. “We have developed a complete solar digital solution for both rural villages without power, and urban neighbourhoods that are subjected to fluctuating electricity supply. The resultant offerings include a complete education system infrastructure, power generation for small business enablement, a tele-medical centre for quick and accurate diagnoses, a health centre for the treatment of basic illnesses, and basic lighting,” Boulanger explains.
Boulanger points out that the focus is on harnessing the energy of the sun to minimise running costs. “All products are developed to be low maintenance, with extended lifecycles. We have had a very good response to the Solar Powered Internet School, which is housed in a 12-metre container for easy transportation by road, rail and sea. Rubberised solar panels are used, as glass panels can be destroyed by hail or during transport. The server in each internet classroom contains the complete country-specific school curriculum spanning from grade 0 to grade 12.”
Samsung Electronics also factored in the frustrations felt by business people with little or no access to on-grid power. The Solar Power generator can be readily adapted to suit the needs of small businesses.. The generator is an ideal solution for homeowners, small businesses, remote border posts and schools.
“Traditional diesel generators utilise non-renewable resources and pollute the environment with fumes and noise. A solar power generator can be deployed in less than an hour and for increased power needs, a number of generators can be daisy chained,” Boulanger continues.
“On a community level, we looked at three developments that will provide added convenience for remote rural areas. The solar-powered lantern uses light emitting diodes (LEDs), which are more energy efficient and last much longer than conventional light bulbs. Charged from a central charging kiosk that is equipped with a solar rooftop, the lanterns are expected to provide lighting for more than 10 years while producing no greenhouse gases,” says Boulanger.
The recently launched solar-powered tele-medical centre provides remote medical assistance through a centralised pool of medical expertise and experience. This will reduce the need for qualified doctors in rural areas and reduce the distances that patients need to travel for diagnosis. In addition, the solar-powered health centre provides professional, qualified medical care, thereby eliminating economic and geographic barriers.
“The adoption of solar-powered solutions, specifically for those people who do not have access to on-grid power will drastically improve the quality of life for many of Africa’s inhabitants. The farming industry is a good example of how technology has improved their way of life where today a farmer who has Internet access can easily determine when to plant, look at weather forecasts and also look at market prices – making their operational process more efficient and convenient. As more solar systems are deployed to the outlying and remote areas of the continent, so the benefits of this cost-effective energy alternative will be acknowledged and accepted. However, in order to be successful, it is vital that there is buy-in from both product manufacturers and governments,” Boulanger concludes.