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Small innovation projects by Africans in Africa are already changing the lives of poor people on the ground. This is an indication that the continent is moving forward, offering solutions to climate-related challenges.
In an event at the Africa Pavilion during the second week of the UN climate negotiations in Paris (COP21), entrepreneurs demonstrated that it was possible and affordable to introduce people in remote rural areas to climate-friendly sources of energy.
From East Africa for example, Chad Larson, the Finance Director for the M-KOPA company, showcased how his firm has combined innovative micro-finance system with mobile telephone money transfer to provide solar home systems to tens of thousands of poor people in the region.
“Customers buy the solar home system on an affordable M-KOPA payment plan, with an initial deposit followed by daily payments for up to one year,” said Larson.
After completing payments, customers own the product outright.
The system – which comprises two LED lights with switches and multiple brightness settings, one LED portable solar torch light, a phone-charging USB with five standard connections, a portable solar radio, and an eight-watt high-quality solar panel – costs about $200.
But since the poor residents in rural areas can hardly afford to pay for it in one go, M-KOPA allows them to pay an upfront fee of $30, followed by daily installments of $0.4 for one year.
“The daily installments are far less than what many households without an electricity connection spend on kerosene for lighting their homes and charging of their mobile phones,” said Larson.
As a result of affordable payment plan, tens of thousands are already using the system in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
From the Central and West African regions, Thione Niang showcased how the Akon Lighting Africa initiative has impacted communities in 15 African countries and is rapidly evolving from a pure energy access program to a wider initiative.
The initiative, cofounded by Senegalese-American recording artist Akon, strives to improve water access to peasant farmers using solar-powered water pumps. To date, it has set up “climate smart” schools in rural areas, and it is promoting capacity-building in solar technology on the continent with the launch of a Solektra Solar Academy in Mali.
Femi Oye, co-founder of Carbon Credit Network, explained how his social enterprise is providing low-cost, clean and safe technology (lighting and cookstoves) to low-income households in Nigeria.
Oye’s network creatively deploys social marketing to economically empower its Green Ambassadors through carbon credit earnings thereby lifting them out of poverty and helping to fight climate change in Africa.
Such innovative technologies have attracted the attention of the world, with experts saying that it is a clear sign of development for Africa.
“Asia and South America took off in the second half after the 20th century. And now, I believe that this is the century for Africa to take off,” said Sir David King, the UK Special Representative for Climate Change.
King pointed out that, since the Industrial Revolution, the world has developed entirely based on fossil fuel usage, but now, it is time to switch economies entirely away from the fossil fuels. “What this means is that opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurial activities are enormous,” he said.
Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), agreed that time has come for Africa to move forward.
“When it comes to industrialization, I believe that Africa can leapfrog. But we need to empower Africans with renewable energy. Then we can also adopt clean platforms so as to avoid repeating the mistakes of others,” said.
King acknowledged that Africa’s innovations have been impressive. “We have already seen how mobile phones have been taken over by Africans, and they are being utilized in Africa in a way the Western world has never seen before,” he said.
He noted that Africa has already leapfrogged with the adoption of mobile phone technology and other innovations, which should be scaled up to steer development.