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Why Project Jua is blazing a trail for other energy-access projects

Click here to learn more about Project Jua Phase II

World Energy Day seeks to raise awareness of energy-related issues across the world. The theme this year is "Conserve Energy Conserve Life", so it's the perfect opportunity for us to tell you more about our installation of solar panels on schools and health clinics in rural Kenya.

Posted:

22 October 2019

This World Energy Day we’re reflecting on what we’ve learnt from Project Jua so far and what we’ll be focusing on for Phase II. We want to help more people gain access to clean affordable energy, and are committed to looking beyond the number of installations to really understand the impact of energy on health and education outcomes.

Earlier this year, we invested £1.75 million in electrifying 300 schools and health clinics with solar panels in the most remote parts of Kenya to improve the lives of more than 300,000 people living there.

This is the second phase of Project Jua, and we want to take things to the next level. We want to make sure we’re sharing what we’re learning from the project to pave the way for others who’ll follow in our footsteps. So let’s talk about what we’re doing so far.

Our measuring tape for success? Lots of things

For us, it’s never just about how many solar panels, or remote monitoring systems (RMS) we install (these are similar to the smart meters we use in the UK). Though this is important, we’re interested in knowing what impact energy access can have on health and education. So answering questions like ‘how many more hours a day can kids study thanks to lighting?’ and ‘how many more health services can clinics offer with reliable power?’ are at the top of our list.

But that’s not all. There are other things we’re looking to track, like:

  • How much money health clinics and schools save by not relying on fuel-powered generators as much as they used to.
  • How many clinics and schools have cut down on their diesel use thanks to our solar panels.
  • Whether the size of the solar system was enough to meet each site’s energy needs.
  • How many days the systems we installed weren’t working (for reasons that weren’t weather-related).
  • Ways we managed to reduce carbon emissions by replacing unsustainable energy sources, like diesel generators, with renewables.

Learning to understand the energy needs of schools and health clinics, one step at a time

When working on solar projects, the lack of data relating to energy use and how much power these institutions actually need are some of the biggest challenges. This lack of understanding can mean that solar systems are either oversized (with organisations spending money on equipment that isn’t needed) or undersized (meaning they don’t provide enough power).

Through Project Jua, we want to understand electricity demand from the ground up. So we’ll keep installing RMS on each site, which means that we’ll be able to measure and track the production and energy use of each health clinic and school, and most importantly, share our findings with others who are designing health and education programmes that are reliant on equipment.

This was something we did in our pilot project where we installed 800W systems in 20 sites. It was the best solution at the time but we’ve decided that it’s unlikely to be enough to accommodate their future energy needs. So in our second phase, 250 schools and small health clinics will get 1060W systems and 50 bigger health clinics will get 2385W systems.

How we cut down on everything but quality

We’ve focused on delivering the project at the best possible price, without compromising on quality and sustainable technology. And to keep a tab on our cost-effectiveness, we’re using a ‘Levelised Cost of Energy’ (LCOE). What’s that? Good question.

The LCOE is the cost of the power produced by a solar panel over a period of time. And what goes into it are things like the size of the system, costs, and energy produced in each specific site. Understanding the LCOE is super important. It simplifies analysis, and sets the bar for how cost-effective projects like this can be.

Even though there isn’t a huge amount of info on what LCOE is for projects like ours, the figures are quite something. See for yourself:

Want to join forces?

Giving kids lights to learn by or helping doctors power their medical equipment requires more than electrification. The more hands on deck we can get, the better. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for organisations we can partner with to make sure we’re addressing these inequalities in the best way possible.

If you’re working on similar energy access projects, or you’re interested in joining us to give young people a better future in sub-Saharan Africa, just drop us a line: 

  • Gaby Sethi, Head of OVO Foundation: gaby.sethi@ovoenergy.com
  • Sarah Kanda, Project Coordinator at Energy 4 Impact: sarah.kanda@energy4impact.org

Want to know more?

Go for it. You can download everything about Phase II of Project Jua, and feel free to share this with everyone who might want to get involved too. Or, learn more about the energy needs of schools and health clinics in Turkana and Kilifi.

The UN Foundation also published a great paper on sustainable off-grid solar models for health and education. You can read about it here.

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