Meeting the challenge of electrification in Africa in a sustainable way
As the recently published key findings of the Benchmarking Africa’s Minigrids Report 2022 shows, the minigrid sector in Africa has shown strong resilience in the face of the COVID-pandemic. The report shows that the minigrid industry in Africa doubled the number of people it connected to modern and reliable electricity in the last two years amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, more than 500,000 people, healthcare facilities, schools and businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa are now accessing stable electricity thanks to minigrids. Resilience was also witnessed through innovations of new technologies and products designed to boost energy access and provide rural communities, including health facilities in remote areas, with reliable and affordable energy.
This month, we approached Professor Yao Azoumah, the CEO at KYA Energy Group to learn more about the newly unveiled KYA-SolarShop, a model for solar infrastructures solarization with hybrid investment and how it is a much-needed solution to improve the welfare of local communities in Togo including schools, small local businesses and health centers.
One-on-one with Prof. Yao Azoumah, CEO at KYA Energy Group
KYA Energy Group is a minigrid company in Togo, can you briefly tell us about your story and your current operations? What actually spurred you to found KYA Energy?
Founded in 2015, KYA-Energy Group (KYA) is an international company specializing in energy efficiencies and the implementation of renewable energies (RE) across West Africa. KYA headquarters is in Lomé and is the Togolese solar company championing the goal of achieving cross-continental electrification in an environmentally sustainable way.
KYA is a reliable and advisory voice in the sector, whilst paying the utmost attention to the demands of the customers and was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Best Start Up in West Africa’ by the West African Development Bank. With an emphasis on innovation and affordability, KYA’s primary focus consists of the design, assembly, and subsequent distribution of solar transformation products known as electrosolar groups. At present, KYA is engaged in designing and assembling Solar Home and Business Systems (KYA-SolarPack), energy managers (KYA-FlexyControl), software for sizing off-grid solar PV systems (KYA-SolDesign), etc.
The permanent desire to contribute to the socio-economic development of vulnerable people, mainly rural populations in our countries, spurred me to create KYA-Energy Group, 7 years ago, because I am aware of how important access to affordable energy is for lifting up their lives. Access to energy is a transversal need for all the socio-economic activities. Today our above-mentioned products are not only used for productive applications (solar irrigation, agro-processing, and solarization of schools and health facilities) but are also used to electrify military sites (in the fight against terrorism), in Togo and beyond.
How does it look like to develop a minigrid in Togo? What would you say are the major bottlenecks you face and how does success look like in the minigrid development business?
Solar industry in Togo is relatively new and still under development. We are lucky to have decision makers who are open and who have decided to opt for renewable energies for many purposes. It is a huge boost for the solar industry in particular. However, we are facing financial challenges, the non-sensibilization of the population about the benefits of renewable energies, the poor quality of equipment locally available, and non-skilled local technicians, etc. The low purchase power of a big share of our population is also a big issue we are facing. Solar products are seen as very expensive ones for poor people. And this fact needs to be changed in order to make success in the minigrid development.
In July, KYA Energy took a big step and unveiled the KYA- SolarShop; a model for social infrastructures solarization with hybrid investment. What motivated you to develop it? And how is it going to impact the welfare of rural communities?
We were granted by USAID in 2020, in full Covid-19 pandemic, to solarize 20 health facilities across my country Togo. One of the key features of this grant is to provide a sustainable model for the installations. We have proposed to add to the solar installations phone charging stations so that patients and their relatives could charge their phones (during their stay) against a charging fee. This revenue generated enable to cover the solar systems maintenance fees by hiring a local technician (per health facility) who will do the maintenance. However, we noticed that the surrounding populations were in need of many other services like water (for drinking or irrigation), phone charging, photocopies (pupils and teachers) and wi-fi for young people (for instance), etc. Then the question was why not find a way to satisfy donors who want to have a sustainable model for their grant and the local beneficiaries who deserve more affordable energy-based services. The idea of the KYA-SolarShop was born from there. With KYA-SolarShop model, we are insuring access to all basic services to local population with affordable costs.
Is it now operational? Could you tell us more about the model (key features)? How does it work?
KYA-SolarShop is operational in Togo. We even have good feedback from the beneficiaries on videos that could be shared with everyone who is interested. Firstly, we identify with local agency for rural electrification, where there are needs for powering social infrastructure like schools or health centers. Secondly, we provide electricity free of charge to the social infrastructure (because we are using their land for the installation of the shop). The electricity given to the social infrastructure represents around 30 to 40% maximum of the total amount of electricity produced by the solar shop. The rest of the electricity produced is used for pumping water, charging phones (via a charging station), making photocopies or offering wi-fi. These services are payable by the population living around the social infrastructure. The revenue obtained from the populations allowed us to hire two staff (one technician and one manager), to maintain the KYA-SolarShop and generate profit that could be used to electrify other social infrastructures after two or three years of operation. I would like to recall that the investment cost of the solar shops is a hybrid finance that up to 80% percent (for instance) is seeking as grant from donors or from the governments. The rest of the funds is our own contribution. In sum, affordability and sustainability are key features of this model.
How do you ensure the KYA solarShop is made available/affordable for the communities in need?
The aim of the model is to provide affordable energy-based services to rural populations. We have defined the costs of access to water (for drinking or irrigation), access to phone charging stations, access to Wi-fi (for internet) or the cost of a photocopy as the inputs for the model. The hypothesis is to offer the population low-cost services (compared to the existing costs they are already paying for these services). And we are flexible to discuss these inputs with donors or any stakeholder, in order to better fit the affordability and sustainability criteria.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely hit many businesses and the mini-grid sector has not been unscathed. However, according to AMDA recently released BAM study, the mini-grids have exhibited a strong resilience. What was KYA Energy Group’s strategy to emerge from this crisis and be able to build such an innovative model as KYA SolarShop?
COVID-19 did not affect much our business at KYA. During Covid-19, my team and I were able to design new products ( for instance, KYA-SolHandWasher which is a smart solar handwashing station), in order to fight the pandemic. This product was distributed to health centers and some other institutions. Besides, we worked hard and applied for the USAID call for grant which targeted the rural areas health facilities. Further, KYA was selected among the nine African solar companies which were granted by USAID. In brief, my company worked seriously during Covid-19 even though we were facing many restrictions due to the pandemic. KYA-SolarShop model is indeed a fruit of this pandemic because it is one of the results obtained from the implementation of the USAID project. It was really a good opportunity for our company and for some partners that we have involved as well in the USAID project.
Coming back to the KYA SolarShop, are there other partners who were involved or supported the development of the model?
As mentioned above, the idea of KYA-SolarShop is one of the results derived from the USAID grant obtained in 2020 for electrifying 20 rural health facilities in our country, Togo. Then, a pilot was built upon the model with a grant received from ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE).
Building a model is one thing – ensuring its accessibility and demand is another – it requires the collaboration of different stakeholders. Are there any mini-grid developers or governments that you are partnering with to make the rollout of this product a success in Togo? If so, who should interested parties contact to find out more about partnership opportunities?
Currently, we have discussed a lot on this model with AT2ER (which is the Togolese Agency for Rural Electrification and Renewable Energies), the Ministry of Energy and the ECOWAS Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE). The latter supports the installation of a prototype for a school in the northern part of our country, and the further step is to spread this model within the sub-region (proposals will be submitted in due course in this regard). We are also preparing some projects on this new model to submit to AfDB (African development Bank) and EBID which is Ecowas Bank for Investment and Development. For those interested in collaboration opportunities, send an email to email@example.com.
Where is Togo at in terms of achieving SDG7? Do you realistically see Africa reaching universal energy access by 2030? In your opinion, what are the two key drivers in speeding up the achievement of this goal?
Togo is actually doing great in achieving SDG7. We are on a very good track to have almost 100% of our population having access to modern energy services in our country by 2030. Of course, there is a lot to do to make sure this happens. And we, as solar companies, are seriously contributing to it by offering innovative solar products and services.
Take a look at these videos showing the impact of our work within the Togolese community
At a continental level, it is difficult to say so. The story varies from one country to another. And I am not sure that all of the countries have set down good energy policies in order to achieve SDG7 by 2030.
To accelerate the pace of achieving SDG7, I think we need special investment funds to allocate to solar industry expansion in Africa, but also to really support applied and innovative research & development activities that could fit the needs of our populations.Prof.Yao Azoumah
We also need change at policy levels, some should restrict some companies to go for solar in their consumption (even a little share of their consumption should be solar or they provide the compulsory share to rural communities where there is no access to electricity). I could elaborate more on this aspect if need be.
Let’s get to know you a bit on a personal level – On days when you’re not running minigrid, what piques your interest?
I really like reading and writing when I am out of office. I have already published four books, two on socioeconomics and political matters (2017 and 2019) and two novels published this year 2022. I like traveling too and meeting people, it is a big source of inspiration for me. Finally, I am involved in community social activities (in my hometown) by giving my time (mainly to entertain the youth and inspire them, for a bright future).
About KYA Energy Group
KYA-ENERGY GROUP is an international company specializing in renewable energies (solar energy in particular) and energy efficiency. It works to meet the challenge of electrification in Africa in a sustainable way with a mission to transforming, in an innovative way, renewable energy resources to produce clean, reliable and affordable energy for all. Learn more at KYA-Energy | Togo
By Emmanuella Ngororano, Communications Associate, AMDA