Clean Power

Published on July 12th, 2015 | by Steve Hanley


Akon Bringing Solar Power To Africa

July 12th, 2015 by  

Originally published on Solar Love.

In the movie Apollo 13, as ground controllers are struggling to get a crippled spacecraft back to Earth, a member of the NASA team announces to the group, “Power is everything.” Indeed it is. Power is what drives the global economy. Power is what enables the internet and the free flow of ideas.

Today, 1.3 billion people live without access to power, including many in Africa. 85% of the continent has no electricity generating plants and no energy grid. Most of the people have no access to the internet or cell phones. They are cut off completely from the modern world, unable to exist beyond the subsistence level and incapable of being part of the vast interchange of ideas the internet makes possible.

akonElectricity from solar has the ability to change all of that. It needs no massive investment in a utility grid or centralized generating plants. It can be as small as one solar panel that helps light up the night, charges a cell phone, or powers a laptop computer.

Hip-hop and R&B artist Akon is a Missouri-born American of Senegalese ancestry. He has a plan to use solar energy to bring power to hundreds of millions of Africans. “Africa needs to be sustainable for a long time and be a crutch for the rest of world instead of the other way around,” Akon told Think Progress in a phone interview. “A stable Africa helps the world.”

He created the Akon Lighting Africa (ALA) initiative in 2014, with the goal of bringing electric power to 600 million of the Africans who live without power. So far, ALA has provided solar street lamps, micro-generators, charging stations, and home kits to 14 countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

The lack of power “stopped us from doing the things we need to do,” he says. “There wasn’t enough electricity to pull from,” to get Africa on par with the rest of the world developmentally, and solar was “the biggest and quickest solution.” He calls solar power a “no brainer.”

“We want to empower the people to develop their own opportunities,” Akon said. “[But] before you empower people you have to educate them. So we developed the university,” which focuses on solar energy delivery and maintenance, “so they can [eventually] invent technology of their own.”

ALA teaches citizens how solar power works and how to install arrays through an educational training program called the Solar Academy that promotes entrepreneurship, Akon said. “The involvement of the rest of the world will be key. It will have to be started by Africans, but the technology the world has to offer has to be shared.”

Akon hopes to expand ALA to 11 more countries by the end of the year, and all of Africa by 2020. “We just really want to be the generation of execution and be in a position where you deliver. And when you deliver, it’s put out into the world and continued.”

Power is about more than electricity. It is about political will and the ability to connect nearly 15% of the world’s population with the rest of humanity for the first time in history. Above all else, it is about personal empowerment and personal dignity for hundreds of millions of people.

Image: Akon, by Tony Felgueiras (some rights reserved)

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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter. "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." Elie Wiesel

  • Ronald Brakels

    The article states, “85% of the continent has no electricity generating plants and no energy grid.” That could definitely be correct if it is referring to land area. But that’s probably not the best way to look at it, otherwise Australia would seem much the same. About half of Africans live off grid but looking at just sub-saharan Africa it is close to 70%. I’m just taking that figure from the US Agency For International Development and hoping it is correct because on the ground the picutre is confusing with many people living in areas that have grid electricity but they don’t have it themselves, presumably because it costs money. But solar power can be useful to people without electricity whether they live in an area with grid power or not.

    • JamesWimberley

      A popular analogy in the offgrid movement is with telecommunications. Africa jumped the wired telephony stage outside big cities, and went straight to mobiles. Eventually African mobile operators will build out a fibre-optic grid as their microwave tower-to-tower networks become saturated.They are rudimentary mobile banks too, a crucial enabling technology for pay-as-you go solar.

  • SecularAnimist

    I love it that electricity is called “power”. It evokes the fact that electricity is a protean form of energy that can be used for just about anything.

  • Martin

    Well it does go back to;
    Give a person a fish and they will eat for a day, teach that person to fish and they will eat for the rest of their life.
    Same goes for solar, teach enough people (and a small input in money) and it will spread like a wild fire.

    • timbuck93

      > teach that person to fish and they will eat for the rest of their life.

      But why do you need to teach a man to fish? Fishing isn’t hard, I’m sure they can figure it out — Ron Sawnson (from Parks and Recreation), sorry I don’t remember the actors name.

      • Philip W

        c’mon dude, you very well understood that analogy.

        • Bob_Wallace

          (humor – Philip)

          • Philip W

            I know it was meant that way, I just don’t think it’s in any way funny. Maybe I’m the only one 😀

          • jeffhre

            Not the only one.

      • Haha, love that guy. 😀

  • JamesWimberley

    This is a worthwhile initiative, but the report provides no context. Akon’s is one of many charitable initiatives. The charities themselves are only a part of the overall picture, as many commercial businesses, including African ones, have spotted that there is money to be made (link to old post of mine). Here is a photo of Mr. Edward Buta’s solar store in Katoro, Tanzania, pop. 11,925. Not a philanthropist in sight.

    • Brooks Bridges

      Yeah but. To boot strap you need a boot to start with and a lot of people have no boots. In a lot of cases just getting people cell phones, chargers, and a little light at night opens up a world of opportunity.

      I would appreciate a list and ratings report on charitable institutions bringing solar to those with no power. There must be efficient ones and not so efficient ones.

      Also wondering why in hell Gates doesn’t throw a few billion into this area.

      • I work for a little non-profit called SolarAid. We’ve been creating sustainable markets for small-hand held solar lights for a number of years now. As you say, that first watt of energy is actually the most important. It’s a very challenging market but we’re currently reaching 10 million people with clean light and we did this on a shoestring. We have an African sales team with an African CEO. Akon’s initiative looks like the real deal and we’re hoping it can help achieve big things. It’s important they don’t miss out the very poorest however as energy flows up, much easier than it trickles down.

        • Brooks Bridges

          Thanks. I’ll definitely look into it further.

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