Low-cost, Low-energy technologies for Development in Africa

(Adesina Iluyemi) #1

How do we ensure that the design and development of technology products are made available for meeting developmental needs in Africa.


(Graham F Knight) #2


Here is one "Low-cost, Low-energy technology for Development in Africa.
It’s been going for years but take-up is small. No-one can say why?

We offer DIY Solar information freely to help poor people as it can allow them to have a little electricity and, equally important, also generate some income.
With this technique it is quite easy to make and use small pv devices - including the charging of mobile phones.

We find it best to send some pdfs and the spiel below to check that the limitations of this pv technique are understood
and then, when someone comes back, go into more details.
It is essential that it is NOT seen as being like a conventional Solar Home System with 20 watts power or more!
It is difficult, but possible, to produce enough power for small computers and TVs, but little more.

We offer the possibility of assembling small and simple electrical devices so almost anyone can have a little solar electricity
with no chance of shocks or sparks - so no expensive security devices.
We do not sell conventional ‘products’ but just the means for people to pv convert their own lamps, torches, etc.

One particular development has been a simple solar connector that allows anyone to solar charge their mobile phone battery for about $3!

The DIY Solar technique produces only a little electricity so we see it as much for income creation/empowerment possibilities than for its renewable energy.
Most interest has been shown by local NGOs who are using this low cost technique to produce small solar battery chargers/lights etc.
Local labour is used to assemble the pv panels as well as adapting radios, oil lamps, etc for solar powering.
Western-run NGOs have shown very little interest.

Above all, it needs imagination in finding its best potential for each situation!
The ultimate aim is to have many small self-sufficient enterprises requiring no further financial support.
It has been done in a few places!

There is much more to be found at our website http://biodesign.webeden.co.uk

The NGO Solar Aid have adopted and are using this technique in Malawi and elsewhere but operate quite independently from BioDesign.
Visit www.solar-aid.org to see an excellent video on using the DIY Solar technique.
A new useful site is http://www.nabuur.com/ where villagers are planning to use DIY Solar.

The latest publicity in which we feature is found at http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5841
Here is an extract:

Ouko employs 16 local youth to manufacture handheld solar devices, which they sell throughout Nairobi and into the countryside.
The devices, purchased through the U.K. group BioDesign and sold for 1,500 Kenyan shellings (US$24) on average, are mainly used to power mobile phones or radios.
“Some [of the employees] are out of school, still trying to figure out what to do,” Ouko said. "Now they have an option for income, and they can…benefit from the skills of their training."
Solar power is a growing energy source in Kenya. If this expansion continues, observers say the sun may hold the answer to the country’s stagnant economy.
“Green jobs” - well-paying employment in an environmentally beneficial industry - are likely to follow.
Whether this growth will trickle down to the frustrated youth of Kibera remains to be seen.

We attach several pdfs and when you come back we will mail you leaflets, a CD ROM and a free small demonstration sample.


Graham Knight
BioDesign (non-profit) biodes@bigfoot.com

P.S. We send out an eNotice about once a month that contains info, news etc about DIY Solar but some contacts don’t get it.
If you want to make sure of receiving it, please tell us soon so you are put on the list of subscribers!
Otherwise you may receive samples etc but be missing the latest news while we assume you are getting it.

A video of a project in Malawi using the DIY Solar technique is found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViOiFijJM7E

Below the extract from their website shows how they are hoping to spread this microsolar technique across Africa

A big vision for scaling up
By Jeremy Leggett (CEO Solar Century) on June 10, 2008

Here’s another tale that involves scaleability, African and otherwise. In Nairobi, on the way home, we met a chap called Fred.
Our Head of Programmes, John Keane, trained Fred two years ago to wire solar chargers. Fred then lived in a Nairobi slum.
He took his tiny savings, bought the raw materials for two chargers, wired them up them and sold them. With the profits he bought four, made them and sold them.
And so on.
Now, seventy people work for Fred. He is in Zambia and then Malawi at the moment, doing training for us.
As for non-African scaleability, we met all the agencies you need to in Lilongwe, the capital.

Everyone, form the Malawian government, through the UN, to the Brits, wanted to help.
Our most encouraging meeting was actually at the British High Commission and the UK Department for International Development.
A senior official there heard our story, and how we have similar operations on the ground now in Tanzania and Zambia.
He thought for a moment and said: why don’t you try to replace every kerosene lantern in Africa? Nick and I looked at each other.
It’s not often we are out-ambitioned by British government officials.

He explained how it could be done, in principle.
We would propose a mega-project signed on to by all African governments that would go to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Climate Convention for accreditation. The CDM entails organisations hard-pressed to make carbon cuts in the North paying for cuts made in solar lanterns substituted for kerosene ones in the South (such as the converted lantern in the photo). This would be bound to appeal to African governments, the UK official said, because so far most of the CDM $millions have gone to Asia and Latin America, where it’s easier to pull big projects together than it is in Africa. Nick and I went away gratefully and are working on this.
Note that Fred above is using pv plate which is what we originally supplied him with.

We now recommend starting with pv modules but can supply pv plate when required.
524-DDIYSummaryA.pdf (850 KB)
525-DDIYSummaryB.pdf (1.65 MB)


(Adesina Iluyemi) #3

Great! Lets keep the debate on for low-cost technology innovations, inducements and investments in Africa.


(Adesina Iluyemi) #4

hI Nicola, can we invite Ken to join on the discussion?


(jessica romo) #5

I was wondering if beyond training people like Fred to wire solar chargers and sell them, is there any other way of using the technology for let’s say other productive activities?


(Graham F Knight) #6

Dear Adesina Iluyemi,

I’m sorry but I have only just found your comment about my DIY Solar project.
My response is that this DIY technique cannot deal with the develop needs in Africa.
It can only be small scale and is therefore more a technique fro bringing a little electricity
to those who will never have a mains supply!


P.S. If you wish to reply please do it to biodes@bigfoot.com


(Nathan Ketsdever) #7

I think hands down the best book on this subject is “Out of Poverty” by Paul Polack. I don’t even think you necessarily have to read all of it. If you want to increase income for people in agricultural communities its a fantastic read. The reason I would cite is that he is the only author who actually deals with the $1 a day people, instead of the “middle class” at $2 like Prahalad (et. al.) Not to say that Prahalad isn’t smart or correct or that the two models can’t be used in conjunction. Alternatively, if folks have alternatives (ie alternative authors, books, case studies that are based on the $1 folks…that have equal or proximate results to Polack and IDE I would LOVE to hear about it) Great discussion!


(Graham F Knight) #8

Sorry Jessica, but I have only just seen your reply.
The answer is that there are lots of possible uses!

Best if you contact me at biodes@bigfoot.com so we don’t block this reams of info



(Adesina Iluyemi) #9

Hi Nathan,
I totally agree with you on Paul Polak. I had the privilege to listen to him and meet in person in 2007 in India. I was impressed by his 30 years experience in working with and helping Indian farmers to be technologically and financially sustainable. So this book is worth a read. Let me say here that I have not read this book though. You guys might also consider reading Paul Collier’s take on bottom of the pyramid.


(Graham F Knight) #10

I think almost any effort is better than none but I do get apprehensive when I learn of people, like Paul Polack, trying to get multinationals involved with the very poor!
Their allegiance has to be to their shareholders not to help the poor so we get the unedifying efforts to persuade the poor to consume sugary liquids, tobacco, etc!

My experience is that the most helpful aid is to provide any way we can to give the poor confidence so they can construct their own future! And that does not mean showering them with wind-up radios, etc!


(Lucy Nickoll) #11

Just to keep the discussion going - 2 things sprang to my mind as I read the topic heading ‘low-cost, low-energy technologies for devpt in Africa’. The first is that the technologies need to be appropriate, in that there has to be a demand for their use, and so selection needs to be participatory. The second point is the institutional framework, conditions need to be organised in such a way that allows for the uptake of these low cost and low energy technologies, and this will involve many different actors from many different fields; govt/policy, NGOs, businesses etc. I am sure there are many more conditions that other people can add?!


(Steven Lim) #12

My view on technology is about automation, especially in the context of development.
So fundamental question is what needs to be automated for extending capability or capacity for development?
E.g. phone = automate and speed up communication channels

Technology that requires low energy usually is the latest technology advancement. Latest technology = higher cost.
Also the need for knowledge transfer (e.g. training as brought up in previous discussion point) to maintain the technology.

So again, back to the fundamental, what needs automating (in the context of African development) may not require latest low energy technology. Even using 2nd or 3rd generation technology enables and allows for enhancement of capability or capacity. (e.g. agri-based businesses)


(Adesina Iluyemi) #13

He Steven,

Good points, especially your “automoton” analogy. The reason for low-energy is that only 20% of African households are connected to power grid. So nay technology must be able to consume less and also to be powered by renewable sources from solar amd micro-wind turbines


(Nathan Ketsdever) #14


I also like what Kickstart is doing: their Moneymaker brickbuilder + Moneymaker micro-irrigation pump are quite impressive. “Design for the Other 90 Percent” says that the irrigation pump can help move folks from $100 to $1000 a year. That seems rather unreal. Its not surprising that Kickstart is part of that project as well as a winner of the Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards for 2008.


Finally, the Fuel from the Fields project that Amy Smith is working on is quite admirable. (I haven’t seen them, but I know she has a presentation up at the Design Summit thats in Ghana this year–she also has a TED talk)


(Adesina Iluyemi) #15

The UN, Vodafone, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s mHealth Alliance have launched a ‘Mobile health’ campaign, says a news item on the BBC website:

Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Barcelona - 17 February 2009

The UN/Vodafone Foundation Partnership aims to unite existing projects to improve healthcare using mobile technology, and will ‘guide governments, NGOs, and mobile firms on how they can save lives in the developing world’.

‘The partnership is now calling for more members to help in mHealth initiatives…“The biggest problem is fragmentation of small projects,” says Ms Thwaites [head of UN/Vodafone Foundation Partnership]. “A lot of the work being done on the ground is NGO- and foundation-led, but let’s join those efforts with the Microsofts and the Qualcomms and the Intels and the Vodafones. There’s a business case for it now; you have to have the experience of the NGOs on the ground talking to the big corporates out there and creating real business models, and that’s why I think the mHealth Alliance can tackle that.”’

The Partnership has published a ‘groundbreaking’ mHealth for Development report, which is available at:

The second half of the report contains descriptions of more than 50 projects ranging from eLearning, HMIS, telemedicine and patient-centric applications.




(Katharine Pulvermacher) #16

One idea that I’m working on is to identify practical solutions that can be used to create local businesses, then replicated. Some groups are already working on a number of solutions - the issue is to regroup and consolidate the ideas and then work out a business model which you can then spin out as a franchise.


(Nathan Ketsdever) #17

Adesina thanks for the mobile for health care document. I can’t wait to see the innovative ideas for helping the base of the pyramid get better healthcare.


(Graham F Knight) #18

Most of the technologies discussed here seem to be for the less-than-poor!

I have been developing low cost solar pv for the poorest people for many years.
One application allows those in remote areas to charge a mobile using a simple solar pv device costing about $5.

If anyone wants to know more please email biodes@bigfoot.com



(MaxTperson) #19

Photovoltaic… needs materials and parts that are transported from elsewhere, after having been made by industrial infrastructures. Effective does not have to mean most manufacture heavy latest space age techniques. The brilliant thing in photovoltaics is their ability to work without direct sunlight. When direct sunlight is available, perhaps instructions for techniques that can be built from materials that are already locally available… with skills and skill levels that are already locally available. Like this solar energy solution set: http://www.solarfire.org/
Naturally, local peoples are likely to adapt and adjust such to their local needs, and to come up with new solutions of their own, which instructions they can then choose to share with rest of the Net connected world.


(Graham F Knight) #20

Dear Max,
It seems to me you are suggesting that poor people should not have electricity unless they can make it themselves.
You referred to a website where they have solar cookers etc NOT electricity