Reliable access to sustainable, affordable energy is one of the most significant economic and social challenges facing developing countries today. This is an especially serious problem for the rural poor in Africa. However, whole African economies are beset by limited power supply through unreliable power grids and the enormous cost to their economies of public and private diesel generation to back up generation shortfall in supply from public utilities.

Solar PV and large-scale Lithium Ion battery storage technologies can change this at every level in these economies as they are becoming more affordable every year. Yet the great majority of the rural households and a large portion of urban population of Sub-Saharan countries continue to rely for lighting on kerosene, batteries, candles or the glow of open fires, and on lead acid batteries to charge their cell phones with some vendor selling cell phone charges at up to $0.25 cents per charge.

Likewise, cooking on inefficient polluting open fires is the norm for the majority of rural Africans. Open fire cooking also extends deep into burgeoning urban settlements  for the lowest income strata across Sub-Saharan countries. Urban populations are in various stages of transition to charcoal, most of the wood for it harvested illegally and made woefully inefficient earthen kilns that use10-15 tons of wood to make one ton of charcoal. As a result,  the impact of the transition from cooking with firewood to cooking with charcoal in urban areas is acceleration of deforestation, degradation of arable land and watersheds, reduced food and water security, increased climate vulnerability, and, in turn, greater fragility in sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor.  

Context: Fossil fuels v. renewable energy

  • 38% of the world’s population - 2.6 billion people - rely on traditional fossil fuels, usually wood, for cooking and heating.
  • More than 95% of these people live either in Sub-Saharan Africa or in the poorer communities of  Asia; 84% of them in rural areas.
  • Lighting with solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene but the first cost barrier for the poor and cheap short-lived pico-solar technology blocks or undermines this transition.
  • In much of Asia and Africa, large scale solar photovoltaic energy now competes economically with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas power generation without subsidy, even when delivering stored energy from lithium io battery banks from daytime energy production into evening peaks compared to diesel peaking power;
  • In Asia a significant proportion of rural households are either grid connected or have small solar panels to provide light and charge batteries, power radios and even TVs. In Sub-Sahar countries this penetration is on average less than 20% and in some countries, such as Malawi and Zambia where CQC works, less than 5%.
  • In sum, the b solar clean energy revolution is yet to reach rural Sub-Saharan Africa on a significant scale despite rapid growth in pico solar sales over the past 5 years. 

Because renewable energy creates jobs, improves energy security, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, we are investing in sustainable energy forestry, large and small-scale solar photovoltaic power projects, and distribution of micro-PV household lighting and charging technology for Base-of-the-Pyramid families. We are doing this through two new entities we have helped to form and support in various ways: Energ-G-Africa Households and Energ-G-Africa Commercial and Industrial. 

Examples of CQC’s work in sustainable energy supply include:

Development of a 20MW Grid-Connected Solar PV power plant in Malawi with a minimum of 4 MWhrs and up to 20 MWhrs of storage capacity for delivery into the non-solar production peak hours to displace grid-connected diesel generation.  As of February 2018, a  Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is largely agreed with the public utility, and an interconnection agreement is being drafted after in-field technical review in January, 2018. CQC is a member of the Atlas Energies consortium that is developing the solar facility with its engineering partner ib vogt of Germany as an IPP. ib vogt is the leading German solar power developer in developing countries. CQC’s role is as  arranger of international partnerships agreements and financing with Atlas Energies, and advisor on power systems planning and development in the dialogue with Government. Atlas has obtained a sovereign guarantee from the Reserve Bank to stand behind Escom and to ensure repatriation of funds. 

Through a new local Malawian consortium start-up, CQC is supporting development of a pipeline of business to business solar power and energy efficiency solutions to reduce reliance on the grid and improve reliability of power supply to critical manufacturing ventures and vital public facilities, such as hospitals and water supply, during periods of power supply shortages. 

Through the new entity Energ-G-Africa HH, CQC is supporting its partnership investment in high efficiency cooking with gasifier cookstoves to replace charcoal for cooking in middle class households using sustainable sources of biomass pellet fuels.

UGANDA: Small Hydro

The UN estimates that only nine percent of rural Ugandans have access to electricity. In rural areas, up to 90% of the energy consumed comes from burning biomass. Wood fires, used for cooking and heating, pollute the environment, cause respiratory disease, and contribute to rapid deforestation.

While most of Uganda’s hydropower development has focused on large projects that utilize the waters of the Nile River, small hydropower projects have great potential for meeting the needs of rural communities.

One such project is the Ishasha Small Hydropower Project, located on the Ishasha River in Kanungu District, an impoverished, largely undeveloped, mountainous region that is home to more than 205,000 people. The district’s 41,000 households either run inefficient, polluting, and expensive diesel generators or have no electricity at all.

The Ishasha Small Hydropower Project provides the people of Kanungu with clean power, enabling them to take advantage of economic opportunities and improve their standard of living without degrading the environment.

Developed and managed by Eco Power Uganda Limited (EPUL), the plant generates clean, renewable power for the national grid, which generally relies on the burning of oil. The 29.518 GWh of electricity generated by the Ishasha plant will produce approximately 20,000 certified emission reductions (CERs) annually between 2010 and 2021.

We make the project possible by managing the verification process and all CDM communications and actions, from registration to marketing and forwarding of CERs after issuance.

We have also made the first ever trade in International Renewable Energy Certificates (IRECs) from the Ishasha hydropower plant. This trade of 6000 IRECs was made early in 2016 through our retail partner, Natural Capital Partners.

  • Eco Power EPUL’s parent company is the Eco Power group in Sri Lanka, a firm specializing in the design, construction and operation of small hydropower plants across Africa and Asia.

MALAWI: Fuel Switching Project

Launched in Lilongwe in July 2013 as a Joint Venture between us and Total Land Care, and capitalized by us, Total LandCare Green (TLCG) was established to pioneer environmentally and financially sustainable firewood and woody biomass fuel supply to urban and peri-urban consumers. The consumer focus is on “base of the pyramid” households that are struggling with the high price of firewood and charcoal and often cooking less than three meals a day as a result.

Current supply of firewood and charcoal to Lilongwe and Malawian towns and cities in general is from illegally harvested firewood, increasingly from watershed reserves and protected areas as trees in agricultural land are depleted and there are no natural forests outside of reserves near big cities.

The crisis in biomass cooking fuel supply is acute, with watersheds so depleted for Lilongwe that water supply to the city is threatened. Decades of supply of firewood from the remaining stands and saw log residues in the 54,000 ha Viphya pine forest, 5 hours to the North, are drawing down to a trickle as the Viphya forest is depleted and remaining standing forests are tightly policed by the few private sector owners.

TLCG’s challenge is to compete with “free wood” harvested illegally and processed into stick wood, carried on bikes for up to 50 kms to Lilongwe and delivered door to door or through market intermediaries across the city. Charcoal is also produced from stolen wood and bears no resource cost, making commercial production of charcoal financially inviable, except in exceptional circumstances on a small scale. 

After many failed attempts to deliver chunked and chipped wood, TLCG reverted to procuring stick wood from sustainable sources and launching its own door-to-door vendor network to pilot this market model. Pilot level results with 5 bike vendors have been promising, but scaling up is financially and logistically challenging.

In 2014, TLC accepted our proposal to offer a firm price for sustainably grown stick wood near to the villages where TLC has been supporting for many years sustainable on farm forestry. Irish Aid agreed to support this business model on a pilot basis. By May 2016, many of the 25 TLC serviced villages were delivering stick wood cut to TLCG specifications from woodlots and on-farm coppiced and pollarded trees under TLC seed supply and silviculture advice. By October 2016, this supply reached 8 tons per week delivered to a fixed weekly TLCG Truck pick up point 10-15kms from the villages and 20-25kms from Lilongwe. 

Villagers are pleased with the new cash cropping opportunity and are increasing production under TLC’s supervision. To expand beyond 5% of Lilongwe’s firewood needs however, significant concessional finance from development agencies or social impact investors to underwrite the expansion of warehousing and transportation infrastructure needed to sell the wood on in many small depot outlets to women retailers while keeping margins low enough to compete with usually higher quality hardwood illegally harvested in the hinterland.

We and TLC are working on outreach to such concessional financiers to take this exciting model to scale. Generally speaking, 5% of the land within 50kms of Lilongwe can supply the firewood needs of the city sustainable. This rule of thumb applies to many cities of the size of one million inhabitants or so across Africa. The TLCG pilot is the first successful demonstration of sustainable smallholder firewood supply we know of and deserves much larger scale support. While any significant natural wood remains, and enforcement against illegal harvesting is weak, investment on by the private in large scale small-holder supplied supply will not be sufficiently profitable to compete with illegal suppliers.

SRI LANKA: Small Hydro 

We registered a series of small-scale hydropower projects (SHP) in Sri Lanka with the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism and continues to manage the CDM assets.

  • Seven small-scale, run-of-river hydropower projects are grouped in three CDM projects to replace diesel- and oil-based power generation in the Sri Lankan grid.
  • These projects together have a projected annual power output of 133.9 GWh/year and a potential annual production of 104,130 CERs/year.
  • The success of the projects and their registration with the CDM helped spark development of other similar projects in Sri Lanka.  As a result, there is currently over 175 MW of small-scale hydropower capacity in Sri Lanka and an additional 175 MWs slated for development by 2020.
  • Eco Power, a privately held Sri Lankan company established in1997, owns and operates ten SHP plants in Sri Lanka with a combined installed capacity of 36 MW.

CHILE: Solar Photovoltaic Power 

 We are using carbon markets to support implementation of a series of grid-connected solar photovoltaic projects in Northern Chile that will provide clean, carbon-free electricity to the Chilean market. To this end, we have entered into a partnership with First Solar to pioneer the monetization of carbon emissions reductions in the First Solar 140MW solar PV commissioned in 2016 and now in full scale operation. 

  • The project takes advantage of the world class insolation in Chile’s northern desert.
  • The commercial goal of this solar PV program is to balance the mining industry’s skyrocketing need for electricity with the country’s concern for environmental sustainability, reducing the need for imported coal for power supply to the mining industry.
  • Grid-connected solar PV in Chile also supports the federal government’s policy of having 10% of all electricity in northern Chile come from renewable sources, even when they are more expensive than coal; carbon finance reduces cost of policy.
  •  Solar Chile Builds, operates and maintains solar power plants in Chile.
  • Valor Sustentable specializes in environmental projects involving energy efficiency, industrial ecology, sustainability strategy, carbon and water management and solar power. 

In 2017, CQC managed the first verification of Certified Emissions Reductions from the First Solar Facility, achieving issuance of 247,000 CERs in November 2017.

CAMBODIA AND MALAWI: Sustainable Biomass Cooking Fuels

CQC has launched pilot projects to produce and market high density natural shell fuels and crop residue pellets used in forced draft gasifier stoves to be used as an alternative to high priced polluting charcoal and imported LPG for cooking.  In Phnom Penh our fuels supply partnership is with charcoal briquette maker, SGFE, which produces cleaned dry coconut shells bagged under our FastFire brand. However, coconut shells are in short supply as Vietnamese traders buy it for activated carbon production. Hence CQC and partners are exploring rice-husk pellet production as a mainstream pellet fuel.

In Malawi, through our Energ-G-Africa partnership, we are helping to finance the supply of Mimi Moto stoves to utilize locally made crop residue pellets to replace charcoal for middle income families in Lilongwe. A fully commercial scale pilot starts in March 2018. 

These trials are promising in terms of consumer appreciation of the modern fast cooking alternative cookstove technology and fuel price reductions but are constrained by the high first costs of cookstoves. CQC is persevering as charcoal is a hugely damaging fuel source, causing destruction of forests, watersheds and fertile agricultural landscapes. Prices of charcoal continue to rise as urbanization proceeds and charcoal becomes the fuel of choice for more than half of all urban dwellers in Sub-Saharan Africa. By contrast crop residues are produced and wasted in huge volumes each year and represent in energy terms the equivalent of charcoal use in most countries.