Published on January 26th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Akon’s Solar Inspiration, Akon Lighting Africa’s Roots, & Tesla Love

January 26th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Sustainnovate.

Akon Solar Lighting Tesla InterviewOne of the big surprise interviews I got to conduct this year at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was an interview with Akon. I wasn’t quite sure if my brain was working right when I saw the name on my interview schedule. Akon is best known as a popular singer and rapper (except by some of us narrowly focused on the cleantech industry … who know him better for his solar & LED work).

Akon was at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week to promote and improve Akon Lighting Africa, the company he, Thione Niang, and Samba Bathily created to bring solar power and LED lighting to millions of people in Africa. I was honored to spend approximately half an hour with Akon, talking about this initiative, its roots from his end, and related matters.

Naturally, with Akon being a famous singer, I wasn’t sure how much he was actually informed, involved, and interested in this topic. I wondered what he was doing beyond offering a famous name and a lot of money. As it turned out, he’s genuinely passionate about this work, and he is personally involved in overcoming challenges to greater growth and broader impact (hence his presence at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week).

I also got into a talk with him about Tesla electric vehicles (he has 4 of them!), which he clearly loves. Further down, you can see how I inched into that topic and how huge of a Tesla and electric vehicle fan Akon actually is.

Below are videos from the interview, followed by some commentary in text about the topics discussed on and off camera (you know, just having a buddy-to-buddy chat, since I’m obviously one of Akon’s best friends now 😉 ).

The fact that Akon spent much of his childhood in Dakar is largely what brought him back to Africa to start this initiative. Additionally, though, Senegal is simply a place in great need of electricity (especially clean electricity) and lighting, and he says it is an easier place to have an impact than the heavily regulated United States. Akon indicated in the interview that he has long had an interest in energy due to its fundamental importance for high quality of life. Though, it was hard to pull out of him exactly when the passion about this topic jumped into his body. It seems it wasn’t any kind of “aha!” moment but simply a long interest in helping to lift up society, particularly those who have the least.

Akon ZachAs you can see in the video, I was curious about Akon’s interest in getting other famous millionaires involved in his initiative, in other such cleantech initiatives, or simply in anything to help the world. For better or worse, Akon isn’t an overreaching evangelist who continually pokes friends to help improve society. Presumably, he doesn’t want to end up being the guy who no one invites to a party (that would be a good way to kill his career and hurt his social life), and he insightfully noted that his friends and colleagues know what he’s doing and he leaves it to them to approach him about the topic. I think the important understanding there is that people who decide to really help the world feel inspired to help from within — external prodding doesn’t do much to help if that internal inspiration isn’t there. Trying to get someone to help when they don’t personally feel inspired to do so isn’t a recipe for fun.

One of my last questions was originally intended to be a joke and/or a mental seed to push Akon to go electric (i.e., get a Tesla). However, it turned out that Akon does own a Tesla … er, four of them. He already has the Model X (two of them) despite the fact that only a few hundred have been delivered to customers, and he noted that he was one of the first people to put down a deposit for the Model X years ago. I could clearly see the excitement in his eyes as he talked about his Teslas. As you can see if you watch the video interview, he even noted that he sold all of his Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc., because they don’t compare to Teslas. He used to have 28 cars but now just has 4 cars — 4 Teslas. That is too freakin’ sweet. I hope it inspires more people to explore Tesla electric vehicles and become Tesla fanboys and fangirls.

I brought up the BMW i8, and I was primed to explain that even the i8 and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid don’t compare to the Tesla Model S, but before I got to it he quickly noted with strong emphasis that he wouldn’t get another BMW unless it was fully electric, despite being a long-time BMW fan. (This was actually off the camera and after the interview at first, so I asked him if he’d be willing to get back on camera to repeat that — he enthusiastically wanted to do so.)

This was all exciting to hear, and it implied to me that Akon really “gets it” and is an undercover climate hawk. I guess it is not completely under the radar, but he basically teaches climate action using a “lead by example” rather than a “preach to the masses” approach. And isn’t that the best way to do so?

The only thing is … I think Akon would inspire a lot more cleantech enthusiasm if he got the word out a bit more about his own love for Teslas and fully electric cars in general.

We were chatting after the interview a little bit about how awesome Tesla’s vehicles are, and Akon was cool enough to say that if he got some time with Elon Musk, he’d invite us to cover it. (Say what?!? Elon, call up Akon!! And Akon, don’t leave us hanging if that happens!)

Photo Credits: Zachary Shahan & Ishrat Peerzada

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Bob_Wallace

    I understand. Many in the US do not want to hear about how China might be doing something right and we should consider doing what they are doing.

    I’d suggest this. Spread your message wide. Don’t try only to reach the leaders, decision makers. Also try to get the information out to the general public. You never know when someone who learns something might be a friend or relative of the leader you are trying to reach.

    Try to educate the editors and reporters for newspapers and other media. When I see or hear a story that I think has the wrong information I’ll try to contact them and offer them a reliable source they might want to use in the future for their reporting.

    Good luck in getting the message out.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Sadly most African rulers think that renewable energies are some very expensive energy source being imposed on us by the developed world.”

    At this point are there not wind and solar projects up and running that could give you cost data? If you can find them then start educating people. Look for opportunities on other web sites that people read.

    If you can’t find data then use data from the US or other country. Here’s some US information you might find useful. You can reword it as needed….

    “Mycle Schneider, a nuclear industry analyst, says nuclear also faces growing price pressure from wind and solar. Renewable energy is so cheap in some parts of the U.S. that it’s even undercutting coal and natural gas.

    ‘We are seeing really a radical shift in the competitive markets which leave nuclear power pretty much out in the rain,’ Schneider says.’”

    Present cost of wind, solar and nuclear

    Wind = $0.0235/kWh average 2014 PPA (subsidized).

    DOE “2014 Wind Technologies Market Report”

    Solar = $0.05/kWh PPAs (subsidized) being signed in the US Southwest. Working backwards through a LCOE calculation extrapolates a cost of about $0.02 higher for the less sunny Northeast.

    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory entitled “Utility-Scale Solar 2013: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance, and Pricing Trends in the United States”

    PPA prices for wind and solar are lowered about 1.5 cents by PTC (Production Tax Credits). Both wind and solar are eligible for 2.3 cent/kWh tax credits for each kWh produced during their first ten years of operation. Half of 2.3 is 1.15, but getting ones money early has value. That means that the non-subsidized costs of wind are a bit under 4 cents and solar is running 6.5 to 8.5 cents/kWh.

    An analysis of the Vogtle reactor costs by Citigroup in early 2014 found the LCOE for electricity from those reactors will cost 11 cents per kWh (subsidized). That is assuming no further cost/timeline overruns.

    They also stated that reactors built after the Vogtle units would likely produce more expensive electricity as they would not be able to receive the low financing rates as Vogtle has obtained.

    Following the Citigroup study it was announced that the Vogtle reactors would be delayed at least an 30 additional months. The cost of this delay will cost $2 million per day.. That additional cost will push the final cost well over 13 cents per kWh.

    According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents.

    Natural gas costs range from 6.2 cents/kWh upward (peaker power can be very expensive). Coal-electricity costs about 6.6 cents/kWh.

  • Neel

    That is awesome what Akon’s doing for Africa…and he can actually see the money going to Africa!

  • “Just Stop & Think”

    Great Job Zac, keep us informed!

  • Ben Ha

    Thank you for this video and congratulations with doing such a great job with asking Akon about a thing that passionate us. I hope that this project will be successfull and make other coutries more worried about the importance of renewable energy.

    • Thanks. Yes, it seems to be very successful so far. More on that coming in another article and interview…

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