Microgrid – Critical for Livelihood

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Posted On: 04.16.2020

One Village’s story of passion, ingenuity and fortitude in the face of adversity

Since 2016, Etienne Kanjo of TorchBearers Foundation-Igniting Africa (TBF-IA) and Jude Numfor of Rural Electric Initiative – Cameroon (REI-C), have been deploying solar power microgrids in remote villages in Cameroon, both in the majority French speaking territory and in the minority English speaking territory. They have seen the need to provide basic power infrastructure and have electrified twelve of more than 10,000 villages in Cameroon that are without electricity. So far, they have 60 kW of solar power deployed with 600 families or businesses connected. They persevere through the challenges of importing solar hardware, transporting them to these remote localities across backwoods dirt roads and enduring the daily problems of introducing electricity services to off-grid villages. The IEEE Smart Village (ISV) team has been supporting their efforts to improve the conditions in the area, well before the latest armed conflict arose in 2017. This story is about one village’s passion, ingenuity and fortitude in the face of adversity that protected their access to electricity and the outside world.

In January 2020, the village in question found itself in the middle of a conflict. The villagers realized that the solar micro-grid installed by Etienne’s TBF-IA team would be at risk. The chief summoned the villagers together and, since communications lines were out, they had no way to call for assistance. On their own, they carefully dismantled the solar systems and hid all 32 solar panels, each weighing 12 kg, and 12 battery strings, each weighing 60 kg, the charge controller and wiring in the savannah and wooded valleys around the village.

After two weeks, the villagers determined it was safe to re-install this important and life changing infrastructure in their community. They re-wired the panels, installed the batteries and controller, and re-initiated the system under the supervision of the station manager. They viewed this micro-grid as critical to their survival and livelihood. This power was integral to food supply as they used it for processing food from their farms. It provided electricity for mobile phone charging, their main two-way connection to the outside world. It powered the few radios and televisions the villagers had so that they could get news about what was happening in the country. It also powered a local Internet connection, a critical link for the community to friends and family. Their quick actions saved approximately $200,000 USD worth of equipment and kept their village as productive as it could be. There is still a potential threat for such events to repeat as the crisis carries on. The villagers are aware of this and they want to protect their vital link to the world.

Etienne and Jude’s vision for the future is positive. Etienne is leveraging the power system to increase crop production to help feed the refugees who are migrating to villages like this one with resources. “We have a bore hole where we can use pumps to irrigate the vegetable crops, even during the dry season. This increases our food supply to double what we could normally produce in a year,” he said. They have also been very creative in making a portable fish pond. The power pumps the water into a large holding tank and provides aeration for the fish. After the fish have grown, they can be marketed and the realized income used to supplement the lost income from under-used micro grids located in these villages.

Jude has relocated his base of operation to a more stable region in Cameroon, while Etienne has also expanded to that part of the country. Jude has been working with ISV Technology team on establishing a production and training facility for the portable, A-Frame SunBlazer IV system pioneered by Smart Village. They have designed their first installation for another Smart Village project, The Maa Trust, in Kenya. In this more stable area, Jude and team envision a training facility where Solar technicians will be trained to install and service this new technology in Cameroon and across Africa, expanding their impact in Africa.

For the near term, the goal is to continue operation. There is some opportunity to install additional microgrids in other villages outside the conflict area and to ease the burden on the refugees. IEEE Smart Village is continuing to support these entrepreneurs with start-up funding for this expansion and for increasing the number of portable battery kits available for rent. Funding for Cameroon and other countries around the world is needed immediately. If you desire to help, please visit https://www.ieeefoundation.org/SmartVillage_donation.

Related Pages:
REIc – Cameroon

CSI Project Manager visits Bamenda, Cameroon


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