Tag Archives: Gamos

SAMSET Releases a New Guide to Clean Energy Transitions for Sub Saharan Municipalities

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the recently-released Guidelines to Clean Energy document for SAMSET.

As a part of our ongoing work with Sub Saharan Municipalities in Uganda and Ghana, the research team have brought together some basic information on clean energy transitions.  “GUIDELINES TO CLEAN ENERGY:- A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR SUB SAHARAN AFRICAN MUNICIPALITIES (2017)”. The Guide is intended to help decision makers in Municipalities in Sub Saharan Africa to consider ways in which they could make their city utilize cleaner energy. Its foreword states “This manual has been designed for use by city officials and planners working in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a practical handbook, which identifies easy to achieve energy interventions that will save money (for cities, businesses and households), promote local economic development, and enhance the sustainable profile of a city. This manual is specifically aimed as a support tool to achieve the implementation of key interventions within municipalities across sub-Saharan Africa.”

The 200 page document starts with a call for cleaner energy. Its opening chapter draws on various sources to show how our ongoing use of fossil fuels is linked to climate change. The historical contribution of Sub Saharan Africa to global climate change is small compared to the developed countries, however over the next 30 years it will increase its contribution particularly if ‘Business as Usual’ is continued. The opening chapters discuss how this global problem is the responsibility of all, and how municipalities could take a decision to move towards clean energy that might contribute to climate change mitigation in the long term.

The guide, however, is titled ‘A Practical Guide’ and we felt it important to move quickly on from the macro picture of global challenges to the specifics of what a municipality might do. Each of the chapters has the same format –

  • An overview, which includes some basic description of technology and social change options;
  • The Case; which discusses how simple changes can make considerable differences
  • Potential for Rollout; discussing the realities of Sub Saharan African life and whether the technology could be introduced
  • Barriers to implementation (and effort to resolve); an attempt to anticipate barriers, and suggestions of what might be done
  • How to go about implementation; some suggestions for action
  • Case Studies; some Sub Saharan African case studies to illustrate the relevance and possibilities of the chapters subject.

Chapter 5 starts with Energy efficient lighting a technology that is relatively easy to implement. LED bulbs have become common and simple action ensuring they are available in the market and ‘encouraged’ among consumers can save significant amount of electricity (compared to older lamps). Chapter 6 broadens the picture to include energy efficient buildings.Ideally these need some design at the very start, but the chapter also makes suggestion for retrofitting that can lower energy consumption. Chapter 7 considers public transport. Vehicles can not only consume considerable amounts of fossil fuel, but create localized pollution. The chapter focuses on the possibilities of public transport as an alternative to everyone getting their own car. Chapter 8 considers cooking. While it may seem that municipalities have little to say about the choice of domestic cooking fuels, the ongoing use of biomass (charcoal) in urban areas contributes to local pollution, kitchen pollution and global pollution. Municipalities can undertake various strategies to assist consumers to move toward genuinely clean cooking.

Waste to energy in Chapter 9 is very much a municipality concern. Collection of waste is a challenge to many SSA municipalities, and the possibility of converting it to useful energy is worth consideration. Chapter 10 talks about Solar Photovoltaics. Solar PV has come down in price considerably over the last few years and this chapter discusses the possibilities – from solar farms contributing to the national grid, to mini and micro grids, to solar home systems.

Renewable purchase agreements are a policy tool that can encourage clean energy. Chapter 11 discusses these, pointing the municipality players to consider the policy instruments available in their country. Chapter 11 touches on carbon trading – this again is effectively a policy instrument that municipalities might consider using. And finally , a last chapter summaries but does not deal in depth, some ideas on Concentrated Solar Power, Wind Power and Solar Water Heaters.

The guide ends with a call to action, to share ideas with colleagues, and to take small steps that help us tread lightly on the earth. “We may have discussed many ideas, technologies, approaches, regulations, policies, feed in tariffs, low energy light bulbs, and energy efficient buildings among others, but ultimately consumption and sustainability come down to you. Humanity has a large footprint on this world and currently we are not treading lightly. We consume; we consume fossil fuel, we create so much impact that our climate is changing, we build cities that can be seen from space; we are heavy on the earth.”

An experience of Dar es Salaam bus rapid transit system – DART

Simon Batchelor of Gamos writes on his experiences with the Dar Es Salaam rapid transit system (the DART).

When SAMSET started in 2014, its first network meeting was in Dar Es Salaam alongside an ICLEI conference.  At the conference there was an offering by the mayor of Dar for attendees to have a field trip to see the Dar es Salaam bus rapid transit system called DART.  At that time there was little more than road works to see, but what was impressive was the ambition to carve out whole highways that would be bus only roads.

1

Morocco BRT terminal in Dar Es Salaam. Image: Simon Batchelor

Like most city wide infrastructure projects, the system has been in the planning for more than a decade.  Discussed in 2003, JICA encouraged Dar municipality to consider the system, and designs started in about 2005.  Consultations with the public and those affected by the construction, social and environment impact studies, ongoing economic feasibility studies all take time, so it wasn’t until 2012 that the road works started to appear.  It will eventually be 6 phases, but phase 1 was completed in April 2015 (about 6 months after our first network meeting – so we didn’t get to ride it then).

When looking for some of the facts surrounding the system, I came across a document – “What necessitated establishment of a BRT system in Dar es Salaam?”.  Their answer…”When you have a swelling city population and you find yourself in the teeth of agonizing transport problems and hitches, the logical safety valve is to have a type of public transport that uses a passenger medium uninterrupted. As the name suggests BRT is a mode of public transport that uses rapid trunk buses. BRT is a huge-capacity transport solution to public transport problems the City of Dar es Salaam faces. The BRT system operates in a way quite similar to a tramway. In the latter passengers board trams while in the former passengers ride on huge buses plying on exclusive lanes.”  (My emphasis)

2

Interior of one of the DART buses. Image: Simon Batchelor

So when we were in Dar for other business last week, we took the opportunity to ride the buses.   Phase 1 is said to be a single 23 km line from a station called Kimara Terminal down to the CBD.  However we found ourselves at the end of a branch line, at Morroco Terminal.  The system is said to have cost around $180 million so far.  Since there are branches one has to choose the right bus. We got on at Morroco, and were advised to take the No 3 bus in order to get to the Zanizbar ferry terminal.

3

Proposed full route of the DART. Image: http://ansoncfit.com/wp-content/uploads/DART-Phase-1-e13033701609191.png 

4

Citizens riding the DART bus. Image: Simon Batchelor

It runs some 140 Chinese made buses that in themselves are unusual.  Each station or terminal sits raised at about stomach height.  The buses have floors and doors at that height on the right hand side.  On the other side for emergencies they have one door that has steps down to road level – mainly for the driver since no one ever gets on that left hand side.

5

Bus terminal in Dar Es Salaam. Image: Simon Batchelor

The terminals have gates and one purchases either a seasonal ticket and gets a Contactless smart card or at the counter and gets a printed ticket with a bar graphic.  Placing the ticket under the gate scanner gets you through the gate or like many other rapid transport systems in cities one taps the card and the price of the journey is taken from it.  At the moment there are staff to help people get through the gates as the whole system is still being nurtured among the general population.

6

Passengers using a ticket turnstile. Image: Simon Batchelor

We entered the bus at one end of the line (Morroco), and found a clean air conditioned No 3 bus that would not have felt out of place in any modern bustling city.  By mid journey the bus was full and the heat radiated by so many bodies had overwhelmed the air conditioning and people had opened the windows.  This was not rush hour but was middle of the day, so I can imagine it gets pretty cramped at peak times.  However while it declined in comfort by the end of the journey, it was indeed quick.   We had sat in a taxi the day before for an hour in a very slow moving traffic jam; this trip took us only 20 minutes.  It felt impressive to look ahead of the bus and see the completely open highway.

7

Passengers on the DART. Image: Simon Batchelor

We have talked a lot in this blog about the growing needs of municipalities, and SAMSET is focused on long term solutions.  Dar es Salaam is a fast growing commercial capital, producing 70 percent of Tanzania’s gross domestic product and is the hub of economic activity with an estimated daytime population of close to six million.  Analysis in 2014 showed that some private 5,200 passenger buses were operating on the city roads, and traffic congestion was already having an impact on the economic well-being of the city.  A metro was not possible, and the rapid bus system seemed viable.  It is said it will transport 300,000 a day in this interim phase.

Having now ridden the system, I can see how it can avoid the traffic problems.  I think it probably already gets overwhelmed in rush hour and be uncomfortable to ride at those times (much like most mass transit systems in most capital cities!  I try to avoid the London underground at peak times!).  I wish the municipality of Dar the best for its subsequent phases and will be interested to see its longer term use of lower carbon buses.

Ongoing ‘Decreasing International Solar PV Prices’.

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes to continue the theme of global solar PV prices, and their continuing price reduction.

In his blog on Decentralised Solar PV Acceleration in South Africa, my colleague, Mark Borchers, noted that “Where national grid power prices are rising fast, as is the case in many African countries, the decreasing international solar PV prices will sooner or later lead to a situation where it makes sense for businesses to install their own grid-connected rooftop systems.”  In a blog last year “Will Solar Photovoltaics Continue to Decrease their Cost?” we shared some insights into the ‘decreasing international solar PV prices’.

It is well worth keeping an eye on this price descent of solar, and this blog takes the opportunity to refer to a new report by IRENA – The International Renewable Energy Agency. The report “THE POWER TO CHANGE: SOLAR AND WIND COST REDUCTION POTENTIAL TO 2025” focuses on utility scaled activities, nevertheless they present an up to date analysis of solar photovoltaics and suggestions of costs through to 2025.

They confirm that solar PV modules have high learning rates (i.e. cost reductions as technology manufacturers accumulate experience) (18% to 22%) and rapid deployment – there was around 40% growth in cumulative installed capacity in each of 2012 and 2013 and around 30% in 2014 and 2015. These factors resulted in PV module prices declining by around 80% between the end of 2009 and the end of 2015. In 2011, price declines accelerated as oversupply created a buyer’s market. The price declines then slowed between 2013 and 2015 as manufacturer margins reached more sustainable levels and trade disputes set price floors in some markets. Current country average module prices range from USD 0.52 to USD 0.72/W. They believe that module costs are set to continue to fall, and they state that by their reckoning, module costs will have dropped by 42% by 2025.

However these module costs are only part of the system costs. IRENA shows that there are considerable gains to be made by reducing all the other system costs. In their figure 2 (see below) they show some of the balance of system costs for various countries of utility scale PV projects. It is interesting to note that the difference between China and Germany on the one hand and Australia and Japan on the other is a factor of 3. The report suggests that there is considerable room for reducing these balance of system costs further and it is improved efficiencies of installation that will continue to drive the system prices down.

The report also considers the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), which takes into account the lifetime of the system, the ongoing operation and maintenance costs, as well as the capital investment. They note that the LCOE of solar PV fell 58% between 2010-15, making it increasingly competitive at utility scale. Of course looking ahead there are many unknowns, however their predictions are that utility scale PV could have project costs in the range of USD 0.03 to USD 0.12/kWh by 2025.

This general trend highlighted by the report in the context of utility scale PV nevertheless supports Mark Borchers’ observations on shopping malls and PV. He noted that “a combination of steadily reducing international solar PV prices and consistently higher-than-inflation electricity price hikes” was behind the decision to put solar PV on malls, and that “such installations are now a financial no-brainer – giving an 18% internal rate of return (IRR) with a 5 year payback”. While the IRENA report had a slightly different focus (scale of PV), it nevertheless confirms that PV is likely to continue its price descent, making the IRR for shopping malls in South Africa even better in the coming years.

Mark ends his blog by stating that since this is financially worthwhile, and will inevitably become even more so, he calls for urban areas to think about the “big implications for sustainable energy planning”. We echo that call.

gamosjune2016bloggraph

Why Waste That Energy?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the SAMSET team’s visit to Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality’s Simmer and Jack waste-to-energy facility.

As a part of the Africities Summit 2015 (Mark Borchers’ previous blog), we visited the Simmer and Jack Landfill site to see an example of a waste to energy facility. Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality is not part of the SAMSET programme of work, however they were kind enough to host a site visit to the 1MW landfill gas to electricity plant at the Simmer and Jack landfill site in Germiston, Johannesburg. This project, which was commissioned in September 2014, has reduced electricity purchases from Eskom by 7 GWh/year. The gas capture has also greatly improved local air quality and the environmental conditions of the communities living alongside or nearby the site.

The work in Germiston had already been used as a case study for the Urban Energy Support programme, funded by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in partnership with SAGEN. SAGEN is the South African German Energy Programme implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) was commissioned by GIZ to develop the case studies, in close partnership with SALGA and GIZ.

We compiled a video made up of information from the case study and video footage taken during the site visit, which we hope will enhance the original case study.

At a recent professional development meeting for DFID (UK Aid) staff (Feb 2016), the video was shown and used as a discussion point on waste by Prof D Wilson, Visiting Professor in Waste Management at Imperial College London. Many of the SAMSET municipalities are concerned with waste management and as cities grow it is an increasing problem. Perhaps more of this utilization of the gas would turn a problem into an opportunity.

Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

gamos.capetown blog growth

Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

Will Solar Photovoltaics Increase Their Efficiency Soon? / Will Solar Photovoltaics Continue to Decrease their Cost?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes below on the potential implications of the rapidly-decreasing price of solar photovoltaic panels, and electricity costs per unit from solar energy. With prices rapidly approaching parity for global average retail electricity, the potential for solar energy to move from an expensive, plant-based energy solution, or a small, household-scale system, to a more integrated and commonplace technology for varied energy services, is increasing greatly. Simon presents two sections below, focusing on the improvements in photovoltaic cell efficiency, and if the decreasing cost trend is to continue and its implications.

Fall-in-solar-prices-chart (1)

Source: renewableenergyhub.co.uk

Will Solar Photovoltaics Increase their Efficiency Soon?

In the past few years solar cells have undergone rapid changes in efficiency and cost. Currently the research being conducted by competing companies is improving the efficiencies and reducing the production cost. The industry itself is growing quickly and due to large scale manufacture prices are decreasing.

One of the ways to reduce the cost of solar cell production is to improve the efficiency of the cells as this enables them to convert more energy from the sun. New efficiency records are constantly being set by the leading companies in solar cell research; these are from the most up to date articles available. The latest breakthrough in solar panel efficiency was in December 2014, a press release from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany announced that 46% efficiency had been reached with a concentrator (multijunction) photovoltaic system. MiaSolé (January 2014) produces flexible solar panels with an efficiency of 17%, these could have a range of uses that other, more efficient panels could not fulfil. Sharp has been trying to develop cells which can make use of the electrons released on impact with the panel surface, as of June 2014 this project was still getting started but predictions of 60% efficiency have been made if this project is successful. Researchers at Stanford University have been using a layer of perovskite on top of standard silicon as both materials absorb different sections of the solar spectrum, potentially increasing efficiency by 25%. The Economist (Feb 2014) reported that John Roberts of the University of Illinois has also been working on layers within solar cells which could improve the efficiency to a potential 50% by absorbing different parts of the solar spectrum. In August 2014 First Solar improved the efficiency of the CdTe Thin Film cell to 21.4%, 3% higher than their record in February 2013, while this cell has lower efficiency than multijunction ones it has the lowest production cost.

Will Solar Photovoltaics Continue to Decrease their Cost?

price-trend-modules-h Source: europe-solar.de

A study by MIT in 2013 showed that China is currently the world leader at producing low cost solar panels; in 2011 63% of solar panels production took place there. However this study provided hope for the American market that the lead the Chinese manufactures had was based on large scale production rather than a bigger workforce, American manufactures may be able to catch up. Due to over production in China it has been estimated 88 companies have had to close factories particularly in North America and Europe; companies in China have had to merge (Forbes, 2012). Q cells, a leading German research and manufacture company, which went bankrupt and was taken over by Korean company Hanwha (Economist, 2014). Hanwha announced in December 2014 that it was going to merge three companies (Hanwha Q CELLS, Hanwha SolarOne and Hanwha Solar Holdings) to become the global leader of solar cell production with a manufacture capacity of 3.28 GW. Companies in the US and Europe are unhappy with the over-manufacturing approach China has taken, anti-dumping duties are being applied on Chinese imports of solar panels to the US and EU (Economist, 2014). This has angered consumers as it pushes the cost of solar panels beyond an affordable price range. SunPower, the second largest US solar company, is doing well however and in April 2014 beat market predictions.

As with any product the value of solar energy varies due to the demand and production rate; there have been several fluctuations in both of these but currently they are increasing. Early in 2014 the Wall St Journal showed there was evidence for investors displaying renewed interest in the solar industry indicating a possible resurgence after the decline in 2008. This decline was due to over-manufacture in China and subsidy removal in Germany (previously purchasing half of the PV panels produced) resulting in an unsustainable stock price for solar (Wall St Journal, 2014).

Members of the Fraunhofer Institute in 2013 said that at the time the production of solar cells was greater than the demand for them but in the future the demand would outstrip manufacture capacity. Their aim was to start a large scale factory in Europe which could produce high volumes of solar cells in order to make a profit even when the prices dip below 50c/W. In the same article it was predicted that in 2050 the cost of solar energy may be 2 or 3c/kWh and could be the cheapest source of electricity; to provide 10% of the global energy demand there would need to be a capacity of 10,000GW. The International Energy Agency found that early in 2014 the total solar production globally was over 150 GW. There are predicted increases of solar production in many countries in the coming years due to the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York. India is expected to reach 100 GW in 2022 and the US solar production is expected in double in 2015/ 2016 taking it to 40 GW.

The cost of solar cells will decrease but the decline may be slow as there is a surplus of solar panels and already low prices (Breakthrough, 2013). Between 2008 and 2013 there was an annual growth rate for solar power of 63.2%. Calculations in this article suggest that with a growth of 50% per year (accounting for an increase in global energy use of 3.4%) by 2020 there will be 2,400 GW of solar energy which will make up 8.1% of global energy. The International Energy Agency has predicted that by 2020 16% of global energy production will be solar and supplied by around 6250 GW.

Price projections of solar energy are necessary to forecast the industry growth however in such a dynamic sector these projections are difficult to make. Renew Economy (2013) found that there are differences in the predictions being made about the price of solar power; Citigroup has predicted prices of 25c/W in 2020. The US Department for Energy predicted a cost of $60/MWh by 2020 (at $1/W) whereas the Australian counterpart (The Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics) expected costs of around $140/MWh in the same year. If the targets from the UN Climate Summit in 2014 are met it would have an impact on the solar economy which may not yet have been included in available predictions. There are many price projections and some of them have in the past proved to have been too low. There were predictions that solar PV production might reach 42c/W in 2015 however the most efficient panels available according to ENF (09/01/2015) are Nice Sun PV at a cost of 45c/W. On 7th Jan 2015. the lowest price available per cell was $0.319. The lowest cost panels available are Sun Electronics at 34 c/Watt (09/01/2015).

Clean Energy Transitions – Can Africa Leapfrog?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos Ltd offers his thoughts on smart technology in sustainable energy, and the concept of “leapfrogging” in energy transitions.

I recently attended the conference ICT4S which focuses on using smart technology to manage energy sustainably.  ICT4S is a series of research conferences bringing together leading researchers, developers and government and industry representatives interested in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as a tool to reach sustainability goals. The 1st ICT4S Conference was held in Zürich and attracted 250 participants from 40 countries. The theme of ICT4S 2014 held in Stockholm was “ICT and transformational change”. ‘Sustainable development needs transformational changes regarding both technology and patterns of production and consumption. This conference explores  and shapes the role of ICT in this process and assess positive and negative impacts of ICT on sustainability. ICT for sustainability is about utilizing the transformational power of ICT for making our world more sustainable: saving energy and material resources by creating more value from less physical input, increasing quality of life for ever more people without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs.’

Obviously this conference discusses the high tech end of the spectrum.  There are many actions that can be taken to move towards cleaner, more sustainable energy production and consumption.  Switching off lights to save energy can be done by changes in behaviour – people ensuring they switch the light off when leaving the building.  But humans are fallible, so many technicians propose connecting lights to sensors that switch them off when there is no movement.   This conference spent a lot of time discussing such high tech alternatives – smart buildings that monitored and managed energy.  Even smart cities that mapped where people were travelling to and organised the public transport accordingly.

So for instance, one of the papers talks about smart management of a building in the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.  Their paper “GreenMind – An Architecture and Realization for Energy Smart Buildings” states in the abstract that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption (although that seems a very high proportion?). They go on to say that current management systems fail to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and preserve user comfort at the same time mainly because they are unable to cope with dynamic changes caused by user’s interaction with the environment.  So they created a software architecture for energy smart buildings.  Experimental results carried out in the Bernoulli building, a 12.000 square meter building of the University of Groningen, show that the proposed solutions are able to save up to 56% of electricity used for lighting, at least 20% of electricity used for heating while the savings from controlling workstations as well as other appliances are 33% and 10%, respectively. overall, their solution is expected to save up to 28% of total energy consumption in buildings such as the Bernoulli building.

But what relevance has this to Africa?  Well, I listened to their Eurocentric presentations with an ear for Africa, and I was surprised by what I heard.   In Citizen observatories of water: Social innovation via eParticipation, I heard officials from the Netherlands discuss how difficult it is to get people to report problems.  “Advanced citizen observatories can enable a two-way communication paradigm between citizens and decision makers, potentially resulting in profound changes to existing flood risk management processes”.   That is; they have created community volunteers who are willing to report problems!  This has been a problem in the past for Africa, not because people are unwilling to get involved (as is the case in Europe) but because the distance to report a problem was too far.  A broken handpump may lie idle because the community do not have the bus fare to get to the district to report it.  However this is changing.  There are mobile phones and reporting problems can be just a phone call away.  Africa does not need sophisticated websites to collect data on problems, it needs only a willing ear to listen – ears which can be used in face to face conversation or through a simple phone call.

As I sat listening to various presentations, looking for the leapfrog technology; I was surprised.  I realised that what Africa had was a leapfrog society.  Citizens who are willing to talk to each other in community, and to engage with officials IF officials are willing to listen.   The matching of mobile phones and a willing society could result in big data that might really help transitions to clean energy.