START N’LIGHT rural electrification in Sierra Leone

  • Village youth are trained in PV technology

Pilot Electrification of Deprived Rural African Villages with the use of Solar Generated Power

In 2018 we started to support the project of Mohamed Jah and Alpha Umar Jalloh in West Africa. Mohamed studied and worked in the USA for more than 10 years, most recently as an electrical engineer for a telecommunication provider. When he returned to his native country Sierra Leone a few years ago, he was shocked by the poverty in the countryside. In particular, the fact that the children do not even have light to do their homework has led him to work voluntarily for the affordable electrification of these villages with renewable energy. He started the social enterprise Start N’Light, and with a team of friends, all with a different background, he developed a novel concept of harnessing the intense solar radiation at the equator.
WELTWEIT co-founder, Alpha Kaloga, who was working for the Green Climate Fund at Conakry, Guinea, learned about Start N’Light and Mohamed’s need for support and collaboration. Aplha was convinced that the concept and, above all, the spirit of Start N’Light can be exemplary for the whole region of West Africa, and so he decided to take on this project. Alpha, who completed his entire studies in Germany and knows international development cooperation by heart, acts as our South-North Bridge and thus he is the official project manager.

The intensity of solar radiation (measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter per time) near the equator is much higher than it is in Europe. The sun’s rays are almost perpendicular to the earth, which means that more photons per square meter strike the surface than in the northern or southern latitudes. However, the day at the equator is quite short compared to a summer day in the temperate zone. The sun therefore emits intense radiation for a relatively short time. The problem is that the solar modules produced in the north take a relatively long time to charge a battery, because they are designed for comparably low-intensity solar radiation, that shines for a long time. To quickly charge a battery several modules must be connected in parallel because the speed at which a battery is charged depends on the voltage (volts) of the charging current. The maximum voltage delivered by a solar module is predetermined by the design of the photovoltaic cells and is therefore not variable. Since the solar energy at the equator stems from intense solar radiation, its potential strenght of current (ampere) however is relatively high. Now, with the help of a transformer, you can exchange voltage for amperage, but the current must be available as alternating current. The direct current from the module is thus converted by a current transformer to alternating current whose amperage is reduced in a transformer in favor of a higher voltage. This high voltage makes it possible to charge a battery faster than when the module is directly connected to the battery. You get more out of the module, so to speak, and thus need less modules.
In a car, the alternator takes over this task. It translates the power from the engine into a high charge voltage. The higher the rotation in the motor, the higher the charge voltage and the faster the car battery is charged.
In Mohammed’s team are also car mechanics who adopt this principle. Start N’Light combines innovations from electrical engineering with those from the automotive industry, creating a completely new, locally adapted concept of a power plant that, independently of the non-existent power grid, provides the families, the farms and the emerging small businesses in the villages with electricity that comes exclusively from renewable energies – in the next step wind power will be integrated.
Whether the concept works as good as first tests have suggested will be shown in this pilot project in which Mohamed not only wants to bring light into the darkness of two villages, but also wants to double the yield of a test field with the help of a solar powered irrigation system.
His goals in this first project and the steps he would like to take to achieve them are as follows:

The special feature of this project is not so much the endeavour to bring electricity to rural Africa through off-grid photovoltaic installations – there are currently hundreds of such projects on the continent – but rather that the installed power terminal is an innovation “made in Africa”. Whether this innovation really works better than products available on the market will hopefully be demonstrated in this project. At any rate, supporters and partners include professionals such as a professor at Fourah Bay College and the Department of Energy. The promising results of the first experiments have caused a real euphoria in Mohammed, his team and the many involved people from the villages. The other day he told us that he has to curb his friends by pointing out that they should be only concentrating for now on this pilot project, because what increasingly happens is that they now also come to him with proposals for inventions from completely different fields such as plant breeding.
It is this spirit that we want to support and help to spread. So far, we have helped Mohamed to better present his project idea and to make it more concise. It has already led to a grant of 30,000 US$ from the UNDP-GEF program, which he can use to get started. We recently were also notified of a project support by the Hand in Hand-Funds and also the EWS Schönau for the second phase.

Photo-report 2018, 2019 (German)

Photo-report 2019 August

2020 October EWS Schoenau Projektbericht (German)

2020 October EWS Schoenau report (English)

The project is so far supported by:

UNDP-GEF, Hand in Hand-Funds, ElektrizitätsWerkeSchönau

EWS - Elektrizitätswerke Schönau