How PV-and-battery systems are being used to light up remote African villages

Africa GreenTec is planning to install solar-plus-storage containers across hundreds of villages in Mali and Niger. Pic: Africa GreenTec.

Africa GreenTec is planning to install solar-plus-storage containers across hundreds of villages in Mali and Niger. Pic: Africa GreenTec.

By Jason Deign

German start-up Africa GreenTec is ramping up production of containerised solar-plus-storage systems in a bid to meet rural electrification demand from hundreds of African villages.

The company, which last week announced it had raised €1.7m of a €10m bond from investors including German ethical banking leader GLS Bank, has so far installed one system in Niger and two in Mali.

Two others are being shipped to Mali at present and 10 more are in production.

But Africa GreenTec is in talks with at least 150 sub-Saharan communities and is looking to install containers in a further 25 Malian villages this year alone, or around two a month.

After financing its first five containers through a crowdfunding push, Africa GreenTec issued the bond to fund its next 50 systems in Mali and has a grant to help electrify 500 villages in Niger, said founder Torsten Schreiber. 

Bond offered to institutional investors

A press note last week said the bond, which was structured by AHP Capital Management and has undergone a yield assessment by TÜV Rheinland, is being offered primarily to institutional investors as part of a private placement.

The minimum investment is €100,000. Africa GreenTec hopes to be able to bring electricity to 3m people by 2030, Schreiber said.

The company has created a solar-plus-battery system that fits into a 40-foot container for shipping. On installation, which takes two days including training for a local team, the solar panels are spread out over a pre-fabricated canopy.

The system’s power electronics and lithium-ion batteries remain inside the container.

Africa GreenTec also installs between around 4km and 6km of cabling per village so that electricity can be delivered to various buildings within a community. Each container has capacity for up to 144 PV modules. 

Containers with SolarWorld panels

Africa GreenTec is so far installed containers with 295W SolarWorld panels, giving a maximum solar output of around 42.5kW per container.

This year, though, the company is planning a move to 320W panels, giving a maximum output of 46kW. Up to 50kW may be possible with current container configurations, said Schreiber.

On the energy storage side, each container has space for four Tesvolt TS HV 70 67kWh battery packs, or a maximum of 268kWh. Systems installed so far have had just one 45kW, 67kWh battery pack.

Africa GreenTec, which has been working on the concept since 2014, has designed a highly efficient cooling system to keep the batteries at optimum operating temperature while minimising parasitic losses, Schreiber said.

He claimed the company was aiming for a landed all-in cost, including shipping to the Malian capital Bamako, of €200,000 per container. 

Electricity for €0.50 per kWh

In notes provided for a recent crowdfunding campaign, Africa GreenTec claimed it would be able to provide electricity for €0.50 per kWh, or about half the price of energy from diesel gensets.

Ethical lenders and specialist family offices targeted with the Africa GreenTec 10-year bond are being offered a 6.5% annual interest rate, coming from a share of the electricity sales from each project.

Each project is destined to villages of at least 3,500 inhabitants. In Africa GreenTec’s core markets of Mali and Niger, this usually corresponds to between 300 and 350 households.

Although the 19-ton containers are built to be mobile, the risk of theft in rural Mali or Niger is minimal due to a lack of cranes and the value of the electricity supplies to local inhabitants.

“They will defend it with their life, I think,” said Schreiber. 

Making sure the system is looked after

In each village it operates in, Africa GreenTec recruits a security guard and a senior and junior electrician, making sure the system is looked after following installation.

The staff are trained by the company’s German engineers and can call on Africa GreenTec for help if needed. Each container is equipped with 16 sensors and sends data back to the company via a satellite connection.

Africa GreenTec’s PV-and-battery concept gained popularity across Mali in 2014 after the company’s first project was featured in a TV documentary, said Schreiber.

At the time, the company was considering installations in up to 50 further villages during 2016 and 2017. After the documentary, 100 village heads contacted Africa GreenTec to request similar installations, Schreiber said. 

Potential for rural electrification

Even this is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential for rural electrification in Niger and Mali. Niger has some 30,000 villages without electricity, according to Schreiber, and Mali has another 12,000.

“It’s a huge market,” Schreiber said.

With funding now in place and production ramping up, the main problem for Africa GreenTec is to move things along quickly enough in Mali and Niger, where decision making is often a long, laborious process.

“People are sometimes a little bit slow,” said Schreiber. “You wait two days for information that here you would get with one phone call.”

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