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A Dutch-South African social enterprise African Clean Energy is providing an off-grid energy solution that enables decentralized access to clean energy in rural, “bottom-of-the-pyramid” households in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The company is perhaps best known for its ACE 1 energy system, a solar-biomass hybrid cookstove that pairs thermal and electric power generation to minimize smoke emissions, while providing access to electricity for charging and lighting.
The system, which offers the cleanest multi-fuel cooking functionality in the world, mitigates the negative health effects of household air pollution and connects communities to an off-grid solar power network that provides access to clean energy.
The ACE1 comes with a 10 V/10 W solar panel and an LED lamp. It runs on available biomass materials such as crop residues and animal waste, eliminating the need for energy-dense wood or charcoal, and reducing fuel use by between 50 and 85%.
Africa is Vulnerable to Climate Change
Africa’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change leave it with the two-fold challenge of implementing environmentally-friendly solutions while pursuing economic growth and improved lifestyles for its people.
Central to the advancement of Africa’s economic growth is the energy sector. Millions of people do not have access to affordable, reliable energy which prevents progress and reduces GDP by 4% per year. However, most countries in Africa have not used their fossil fuel reserves and are in a good position to access energy in cleaner, renewable ways.
One of the main challenges the continent faces is having to cook using open fires or dirty and dangerous sources of fuel. This not only poses a health threat to millions of Africans but also pollutes the environment and leads bottom-of-pyramid households into a cycle of poverty.
African Clean Energy was founded in Lesotho in 2011 by Judith Walker, her father Stephen Walker, and her brother Ruben Walker. After having lived there for some time, the family realized there was a need to address the household air pollution that the dirty cooking fuels were causing.
The family developed the ACE1, which burns biomass both cleanly and efficiently without producing dangerous smoke. This vastly improves the lives of those who do most of the cooking, which is mainly women and children.
The ACE 1: A Simple Solution to Indoor Cooksmoke
Video Credit: African Clean Energy/YouTube.com
The Energy Crisis in Africa
The energy crisis in Africa is so immense that, of the almost 1 billion people living there, 625 million do not have access to power, despite the vast abundance of natural resources, such as a huge coastline where wind and wave power could be harnessed. Africa also gets more sunlight than any other continent and therefore has a much greater resource of solar power than any other place in the world.
Research has shown that the continent’s potential energy generation capacity is 1.2 terawatts without including solar power. If solar power was included, it could generate more than 10 terawatts of new energy.
Many Industries Require Energy Solutions
The energy sector is essential to reducing poverty and boosting economic growth across the continent, with many industries such as agriculture, communications and education all requiring energy solutions if progress is going to be made. Many counties in Africa already have small-scale renewable energy plants that are solar or geothermal and supply rural communities.
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These means of energy production are useful in remote locations where electricity supplied by large power plants would be extremely expensive.
Renewable energy technologies have the potential to resolve many of these problems and improve the lives of people across the continent. Many small companies are starting to provide clean energy solutions and the off-grid ACE 1 solution offered by African Clean Energy is addressing the cooking, lighting and phone charging needs in bottom-of-pyramid households by combining draft cookstove technology with solar and battery power.
The Disadvantages of Open Fire Cooking
Open fire cooking that requires large amounts of wood and coal is inefficient and exposes household members to carbon monoxide and particular matter. Inhaling household air pollution can cause heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and pneumonia. Furthermore, the demand for the wood needed to fuel the cooking has led to large-scale deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The ACE 1 ultraclean, cookstove burns any type of biomass, including twigs, leaves and cow dung without producing smoke, significantly decreasing exposure to household air pollution.
How Does the ACE 1 Device Work?
Oxygen is blown into a chamber by a fan, increasing the temperature of the fire to around 1000 °C. At that temperature, the biomass produces hot gas that floats to the top of the chamber where it comes into contact with more oxygen and then burns. The device produces up to 5 kW of energy and the outside of the chamber does not get hot enough to pose any risk of injury. Once the battery is fully charged, it can drive the fan for as long as 20 hours or more.
The little stove, which was developed by Stephen Walker, enables safe and cheap cooking, while the battery can be used to charge a mobile phone or run LED lighting.
People Can Quickly Earn their Investment Back
Judith was told that at a cost of 99 euros, the device was too expensive. However, by 2016, sales had tripled, and the company was providing more than 600 stoves per month in the country of Lesotho alone.
The device can also be bought using a flexible micro-loan, which means customers can repay the money using the energy cost savings the device affords them.
Judith stated, “One of the reasons for success is that people can earn back their investment in six months,” says Judith.
“ACE helps to regulate microfinance, so the target group can instantly save money. That is the most important purchase consideration. The fact that this product saves energy for the long term is secondary.”
Judith Walker, African Clean Energy founder
African Clean Energy has already set up shops to sell the cookstove in Mbale, Uganda, and in Butha-Buthe in Lesotho, where the company’s flagship factory is located. The shop openings are part of a bigger, four-year project co-funded by the European Union, to create access to clean energy in remote, off-grid areas of Lesotho. The company has also expanded to South-East Asia and now has a growing team of more than 100 full-time employees working in Lesotho, Cambodia and Uganda.
“For now, the shop sells exclusively ACE 1s, and in the future it will diversify to sell additional energy products such as solar accessories and clean biofuels,” says the company.
“In the next months, we will open additional energy shops, most likely in Semonkong and Mafeteng. By the end of 2021, ACE will have 25 energy points all over the country, creating the most comprehensive network of energy services for rural customers in the country.”
References and Further Reading
10 Renewable Energy Start Ups in Africa. Africa.com 2019. Maurice Oniang'o. Available at: https://www.africa.com/10-renewable-energy-start-ups-africa/
AFRICAN CLEAN ENERGY IN 2016. Spaces 2016. Florien Smits. Available at: https://www.spacesworks.com/african-clean-energy-in-2016/
Understanding Africa's energy needs. World Economic Forum 2016. Michael Waiyaki Nganga. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/understanding-africas-energy-needs/
About ACE. ACE. Available at: https://africancleanenergy.com/about/
Clean energy to power Africa’s future. African Development Bank Group 2019. Available at: https://afdb.org/en/documents/clean-energy-power-africas-future
African Clean Energy. ACE. Available at: https://africancleanenergy.com
ACE1 Ultra-Clean Biomass Cookstove. World Green Economy Organization. Available at: http://europe-cis.rmcge.org/solutions/ace1-ultra-clean-biomass-cookstove/