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Solar energy gets a boost in Sierra Leone

August 10, 2015 

Solar panels are now helping to power UNDP offices in Sierra Leone. 196 panels are now able to provide power for the 200 strong UNDP country office that also houses the UN Joint Medical services and security services in Freetown.

UNDP ICT Specialist Babatunde Spencer, who was involved in the installation of solar system, said “The aim is to provide solar energy for some sections of the office including the security services, the switchboard and radio control room, the UN clinic which also holds a drug store and medical laboratory.”

The rooftop solar system, replete with battery bank, inverters and power management units, is integrated to ensure smart power management and minimize utilization of the diesel-powered generator.  It currently provides six hours of energy every day.

“The environmental benefits of moving to solar energy will be significant once the office has acquired the additional panels to cover 100 percent of its needs. If the generators are not running day and night, then there will be less pollution, less noise and increased wellbeing for staff in the office,” said Carine Yengayenge, UNDP’s Deputy Country Director.

UNDP Sierra Leone’s Operations Analyst, Thomas Williams says the benefit will not only be environmental, but financial too: “We will save at least US$ 186,278 annually and this is based on the system running for only 12 hours in the evening.”

Mariatu Swaray, Energy and Environment Specialist, said UNDP Sierra Leone is leading by example for other UN and Government agencies to join the effort.

“This is a trailblazer,” Swaray said. “We hope that this will spur similar action by other UN, Government and even private agencies. This shows that agencies can actually do something about the environment.”

The installation is not without challenges. The technicians worked hard to make the technology work.

After the installation, some of the batteries got burned and the panels that were installed were not producing enough energy to power the whole office, with its more than 150 air conditioners.  A measuring device has now been installed to collect data on how much power is actually required.

Aiming to start changing behaviors, the programme also distributed solar lanterns and radios to staff, to generally promote the use of solar energy and to boost staff welfare, health and security, especially as some of the neighbourhoods where they live can go for days, sometimes weeks, without electricity.  A total of 200 solar lanterns and radios were distributed to UN staff in Freetown.

Mohamed Jah, UNDP’s fleet manager said “My six children found the lantern extremely useful.  In fact my children love the solar lanterns.  In the dry season we used to suffer serious power cuts that lasted for days, the lanterns have proved an effective alternative to expensive generators.”

Mohamed Jah said the solar radios were also very useful during the Ebola period, when schools closed down and UNDP-sponsored radio programmes for children kept then studying.

According to World Bank studies, electricity reaches less than 10% of the population of Sierra Leone. Since the total capacity of the national grid only totals 36MW, most offices and businesses rely on generators for energy, thereby increasing running costs and leading to serious environmental and health consequences.  Renewable energy like solar and wind for electricity represent a major opportunity for enhancing the competitiveness of businesses, reducing poverty and fostering economic growth.

The Minister for Energy, Henry Macauley said recently that he hoped solar energy would soon replace generators in Freetown, leading to cleaner air and eliminating noise pollution.

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