There is much discussion in the black community about Akon and him providing solar power to 600 million Africans. My viewpoint is its a great initiative with some wider considerations.
I have previous experience and a interest in solar power, back in 2006 I had travelled around south Africa for 4 months and had come into contact with solar powered street lights, houses (and in some cases) houses. The solar power on the streets were provided by local community and national agencies, which would work by charging up during the day through a battery and at night or during power cuts the battery would discharge the power to the street or indoor lights. There were also solar showers, which differ in relation to how you feel, I felt as it was different to having a conventional shower.
The demographic of people who had the solar power, were middle class persons. The reason being, solar power is expensive to purchase and install. The areas where the street solar power was installed, were either lower income or rural communities. The reason I add this about demographics is in many parts of Africa, there is a divide between those who can afford semi or mostly consistent access to electricity and those that cannot. The rural areas, where people have a lower income or access to amenities available in a city or larger town will have less access to a generator whilst those who have a higher income will have access to solar power or generators.
The challenge for getting 600 people access the solar power, will be how it is rolled out to the respective communities in Africa. As I have suggested it could be rolled out to the use of street lights as, there is commonly power cuts in many parts of Africa and in Ghana, they call it ‘lights outs’. This would make the scheme manageable rather than homes getting the power at first.
Reviewing this from a regeneration perspective, is this venture will be expensive to roll out and fair play to the funders, who are currently on board . The challenge is the governements and the municipalities in African countries agreeing and looking at rolling this out, whilst engineers would be trained up to install this. Is there enough national, regional and local support when looking at planning and determining the areas which get access to this first.
The initiative is great and I hope it works, though there are always political obstacles to overcome even in Africa, what happens if the local people do not want this and when considering what localities get this first, not from Akon but looking at the project being rolled out nationally and locally, will it be the lower income areas or will it be the higher income areas. Will there be enough money to pay for this to be rolled out and how will it be paid for, is there just a fund for a general roll out in terms of powering street lights or will houses get access to this too.
The one question I have is how will the maintenance of the solar power be managed and financed, will it be via the foundation which Akon has or will it be via the governments. Are these parties accountable and capable enough to ensure this is rolled out and the project reaches its aims, financially, socially and politically. Different countries have their own methods as well as communities so working with local people on this and asking them if they want this and how they want it rolled out locally will be important, if it is to be a success.
I applaud the initiative and hope he achieves this as Africa has 320 days at least of sunlight per year so its the best place to have a constant reliable source of electricity. The reservation I initially have is I hope it serves the simple agenda of providing greater access to electricity and nothing else.