I am a civil engineer and work as the Construction Manager at On Call Africa. I am passionate about improving access to and quality of services at social institutions through improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), improved infrastructure, and access to sustainable power solutions. In my role, I lead on project planning and implementation for the design and construction of WASH and health facility infrastructure. As a part of this work, I also focus on engaging with communities to take part in the entire process of improving infrastructure, from design phase, through construction, and supporting the ongoing operations and maintenance of these infrastructure. To me, a sense of ownership and responsibility at the community level is critical to successful, long-lasting, high-quality infrastructure.
Reliable electricity supply is a key to development. How has the situation improved in your project?
National grid electricity supply is subject to intermittent/rationed supply at certain seasons of the year, especially in summer due to reduced water levels in dams as our supply is mostly hydroelectric. With solar supply we have assured supply with very minimal operation and maintenance requirement especially that these systems have minimal moving parts. Secondly, many social institutions such as schools and clinics are in remote areas and do not have access to the national grid supply, nor are they likely to for a very long time. Stand-alone solar systems are a great way of providing reliable and affordable solar power to those off the national grid.
How do the citizens benefit from the improved energy infrastructure in your project?
Minimal operational and maintenance – These systems have little financial requirements to run and operate them hence citizens benefit through financial savings.
Safe and Improved Quality of Service – A typical case is the efficiency and safety that comes with proper solar lighting in delivery rooms and maternity annexes, proper lighting makes it very convenient for the health workers and safe for the mothers during deliveries conducted at night. Solar electricity has also helped with proper data storage and retrieval as health workers are able to use computers even in the most remote healthcare facilities.
Schools, health stations or refugee shelters generally have high financial needs. What do you think social institutions need to be able to finance high-performance solar systems?
They need more engagement with their political and local leadership to provoke political will and engagement with funding institutions to be able to finance high-performing solar systems.
Financing is one thing. At least as important is a long service life and thus the maintenance and care of the systems. How can this be managed well?
We can manage this well by instilling a sense of ownership in the community for the ongoing care of these systems. We can identify community members and form solar committees from the inception of the project. These members can be given different roles and responsibilities, they can be trained to take up financial, administrative and technical responsibilities, such as operations and maintenance. We can also identify and implement income generating activities that are in line with the project aims and objectives.
Often, different government institutions are involved in the projects, the ministries of health and energy, implementing agencies and local communities. With many stakeholders, how can the processes be accelerated?
We can identify key stakeholders from each institution at the inception of the project. These institutions will have to be engaged more frequently throughout the project life and put on a steering committee which guides the acceleration of moving solar installations forward.
Social institutions are often a central meeting point for communities. Does it make sense to use them to bring forward the dissemination of more solar installations in rural areas?
Yes, it absolutely does! Firstly, by improving the quality of these social institutions through increased access to power, community members are more likely to utilize them to their fullest potential, leading to improved health and educational outcomes. Secondly, community members will become more familiar with solar and its potential to improve well-being and be better placed advocate for expansion of solar networks into the rural areas and the household level.
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