Sunergy Blog



Image 1: View of Karanda Mission Hospital

At the beginning of 2017, our partners from maxx|solar energy spoke to us here at Sunergy to look for organisations that could benefit through a fundraising / crowdfunding venture to install solar systems with the aim to improve their daily operations substantially.

The Karanda Mission hospital was chosen as a deserving project because at the time, they were upgrading and expanding their facilities and surgical services through the addition of an extra surgical unit.

Image 2: Newly arrived solar panels


The Karanda Mission hospital is located North East of Mount Darwin on the banks of the Ruya river. It was established in the 1950’s and has grown to become a major contributor to the medical wellbeing of the population in the surrounding areas as well as to patients throughout Zimbabwe.

Karanda has access to the main ZESA (Zimbabwe Electrical Supply Authority) grid power but due to its remoteness, power cuts are frequent and of varying duration. This leaves access to self-generated power as the only alternative. There is also a delay between a power outage and turning on the generator, which means a power shortage that affects the operating theatres can affect operations considerably.

Image 3: Moving PV panels onto the roof
Image 4: Mounting solar panels into position


The equipment required was sourced through a combination of donations and other funds which can be tracked transparently through the maxx|Blockchain Hub at all stages.Donors receive an online login where they can follow the system’s electricity production and have proof that their contribution has reached its destination.

Image 5: View from within the inverter room

It was decided that the new theatre block and the day surgery facilities would be linked to a solar system, which would become the main power source.

The design of the system was commissioned in mid-October of the present year, comprising of 54 solar panels providing 15kW of power. The panels are mounted on an IBR covered roof in an East/West configuration on a building adjacent to the theatre block as this roof was free of any shade constraints. That power is processed through combiner boxes into 3 x Steca PLI5000 inverters, one for each phase, and then routed through the existing electrical system to the theatres. There is a Hoppecke battery bank which serves as a backup to the system for limited night time use.

Image 6: View from within the inverter room


The Karanda PV Project was launched publicly in Harare on the 19th of October 2018, with representatives from the Karanda Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe, as well as many of the project’s implementation partners from Germany, South Africa and Zimbabwe such as the German Energy Agency, dena. The event marked the unique convergence of leading technologies, expertise, support and innovation to achieve a common purpose. We hope this represents the first of many such similar systems for Zimbabwe and our neighbours.

Image 7: Representatives from dena, Sunergy, maxx|solar,and Karanda Hospital press the Karanda Hospital live feed button at the Launch Event.


Sunergy Zimbabwe along with our partners JVS Projects of Zimbabwe and maxx|solar energy of South Africa, and the many organisations and people who supported the initiative, are proud to enable the harnessing of power from the sun to improve the health and wellbeing of the community of Karanda and beyond, long into the future.


Live feed of PV generation from Karanda Mission Hospital during launch event
Karanda Mission Hospital PV Installation Project Partners

With special thanks to everyone involved, named and unnamed around the world, who contributed so much towards ensuring this project’s success.

German Energy Agency (dena)
dena is Germany’s centre of expertise for energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and intelligent 
energy systems. As Agency for Applied Energy Transition dena helps achieve energy and climate policy
objectives by developing solutions and putting them into practice, both nationally and internationally.
In order to do this, dena brings partners from politics and business together, across sectors. dena’s
shareholders are the Federal Republic of Germany and the KfW Group.
German Energy Solutions Initiative
The transfer of energy expertise, the promotion of foreign trade and the facilitation of international 
development cooperation are part of the German Energy Solutions Initiative, which is coordinated and
financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The initiative offers networking
and business opportunities in Germany and abroad, it showcases reference projects and facilitates
capacity building.
dena Renewable Energy Solutions Programme (dena RES Programme)
The dena RES Programme was developed by the Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena) – the German Energy Agency. 
This programme, supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy within the German
Energy Solutions Initiative, helps German renewable energy companies enter new markets. Within the
framework of the programme, reference and demonstration projects are installed in cooperation with
prestigious institutions. The installation is accompanied by comprehensive PR,marketing and training
programmes. These projects showcase high-quality German renewable energy technology and help participating
companies gain a foothold in new markets.


It's time to change how Africa powers itself. 500 million people depend on it

13.03.2018, Sam Slaughter

For Africa to realize its full economic and social potential, the continent will require robust power infrastructure to deliver affordable, clean energy to all of its citizens, including those in rural areas.

Africa is currently at a crossroads in terms of how it will pursue the development of its power infrastructure: on one side, the typical infrastructure lenders and donors like the World Bank are advocating for multi-billion dollar loans and grants to national governments in order to deploy massive generation, transmission, distribution, and connectivity projects. On the other side, an emerging ecosystem of private energy companies are trying to bring power to more people through market-driven approaches.

There are strong arguments for both approaches. Those who support large-scale public sector efforts are correct that power is a low-margin, high volume business which requires scale (such as one achieves through a national utility monopoly).

They are also justified in their belief that access to power is a right for all citizens and that poor rural customers should not be asked to pay more for energy than affluent urban customers. In nearly every region of the world, rural electrification has been driven by large-scale government subsidy programs which were essentially progressive transfers of wealth from urban taxpayers to their less economically empowered fellow citizens in rural areas. There is a strong moral and political argument for this approach. To deprive rural African consumers of this public sector support and force them to bear their own full costs for power could be considered unfair and unethical – or at least historically abnormal.

Despite these arguments in favor of a public sector approach, the billions of dollars injected into Africa for infrastructure over the past decades has not yet solved the energy access problem, and over 500 million Africans still go without electricity. This is due in part to limited funding and competing priorities: a government may often choose a railway or road project instead of a rural electrification project. It is also due in some measure to limited institutional capacity in many African countries. Some African governments and national utilities have lacked the technical and administrative capacity to effectively manage large electrification projects.

Whatever the reasons, the lack of public sector progress in energy access has provided fertile soil for private sector approaches to grow. In the past five years the trends of expanding mobile money platforms, cheaper solar technologies, and high efficiency lighting products has given rise to the solar home system industry in Africa. These companies provide consumers with basic energy services on a pay-as-they-go basis with systems that typically provide a few dozen watt-hours per day (in the range of 0.01 - 0.20 kWh/day) which is enough for their customers to use LED lighting in their homes, charge their phones, and even watch television.

Fueled by international venture capital, private equity, and philanthropic foundations, the growth in this sector has been impressive and over 500,000 households in East Africa now benefit from energy generated by such systems. There are some issues with solar home systems as a solution, which include their high cost for energy (around $5.00/kWh, versus $0.20/kWh on most grids), their relatively short lifespan (2-5 years), and their limited power capacity (they can’t readily cater for productive loads), but the solutions they have brought to the market have allowed millions of African to live better lives with cleaner power.

Market-driven innovation like that demonstrated by the solar home sector in Africa should be embraced and encouraged, and the African power sector should find ways to merge this private sector dynamism with the public sector's rightful focus on social and economic equality. Right now, the private and public sectors prefer to reside in their ideological echo chambers rather than collaborate to solve the energy access problems that they both share, and the resulting lack of alignment ultimately hurts the millions of people who still lack power on the African continent.

The reality is that both ideological sides need each other's help in order to solve this critical challenge facing hundreds of millions of people.  While the public and private sector approaches are currently discordant, they are not mutually exclusive. Strong collaboration between private and public sector actors is not only possible, but necessary.

The World Bank, their donor and lender allies, and African governments should embrace the fact that the involvement of private companies in the power sector will:

  • increase the speed with which we can solve energy access challenges,
  • encourage technology and business model innovation,
  • improve power reliability and customer service,
  • create a channel through which demand stimulation projects can be undertaken,
  • and create a healthily competitive energy services environment.

On the other hand, private sector companies and investors should not ignore the fact that solar home system customers are paying over 100 times more per kWh than customers on the main grid, and that by rejecting public sector collaboration they are depriving rural Africans of a benefit that poor rural customers in every other country have enjoyed: subsidized energy access.

The private sector must aim to bring innovation to the market which will ultimately enable low-cost energy at kWh-scale (not just watt-hour scale) to enable productive loads. And the private sector should strive to deliver solutions that can integrate with a broader grid system to ensure that rural and urban consumers converge upon using the same energy system in the decades ahead. Micro-grids offer one promising avenue through which to achieve these goals.

For their part, the supporters of public sector electrification programs should acknowledge the vitality and dynamism that the private sector can bring to the energy access challenge in Africa, and make subsidized capital available to both the public and private sectors. Without this subsidy parity between public and private sector, international donors and lenders and local governments are implicitly keeping the door shut for private sector engagement with the African energy access challenge.

The future for power in Africa is bright. With the right vision and policies, Africa can use its power infrastructure deficit as an advantage as it leapfrogs to building the energy system of the future while connecting hundreds of millions of people to modern electricity services. In order to achieve this vision the public and private sector factions within the industry will need to learn to see the problem holistically, and work together to solve it.


Sam Slaughter is CEO / Co-Founder of PowerGen Renewable Energy.

Taking safari lodges off-grid: Hybrid mini-grid system for a luxurious lodge in Timbavati reserve

A remotely located luxurious hotel required a hybrid solar mini-grid system providing and guaranteeing reliable electricity supply 24/7 with 100% reliability. The main electricity off-takers in the safari lodge include air conditioning units and fans in the guest rooms; freezers, fridges and ovens in the kitchens, laundries as well as leisure facilities such as the swimming pool pumps.

IPS designed, built and installed the integrated, custom made, indoor power conversion system Exeron. The turnkey solution included 148 kWp solar input, 430 kWh lead acid battery, 80 kVA diesel genset for emergency, all managed and operated by the EXERON to power a load of 108 kVA. The operational logic of the system is as follows: during the day the generated power from the PV modules is used for powering the load and charging the batteries. At evenings or in days without enough sunshine the load is powered by the energy stored in the battery. The battery is sized for a long back-up time. When there is not enough sunshine, the battery discharges and in case the grid is missing the diesel generator is automatically started as a back-up source for powering the equipment and charging the batteries.

The solution provided by IPS contributed to the eco-friendly and sustainable operation of the lodge while at the same time guaranteeing unmatched reliability and uninterruptible power supply. The use of the Diesel Generator is optimized, with annual OPEX savings post hybridization of more than 50%. The setup results in reduction of CO2 emissions by nearly 194t per year. The price per kWh is estimated at 0.33 $/kWh with payback period of 2.7 years.

Lithium-Ion Batteries About to Conquer the Rural Electrification Mini-Grid Market

New investments from companies such as Shell, Engie, Mitsui, Total, and Caterpillar will boost the energy storage market in the rural electrification segment to up to 50 MWh annually — in the long-term, 1 GWh per year will be possible.

March 13, 2018

THEnergy has released new analysis based on 22 expert interviews with decision-makers from mini-grid developers and energy storage providers mainly covering markets in Africa and Asia. Until recently, development finance institutes (DFIs) and impact investors had invested in renewable energy based rural electrification. This has changed with the recent investments of Shell, Engie, Total, Mitsui, and Caterpillar which have also turned the segment into a serious business opportunity for energy storage providers.

In rural electrification applications, lead-acid batteries were traditionally used. The objective was to build first mini-grids at the lowest total cost to demonstrate the viability of the business model to potential investors. Additional risks such as from new lithium-ion storage technology also were to be avoided.

The decreases in cost of lithium-ion batteries are changing the situation. The difference regarding the total cost of ownership is tightening. The gap is often sufficiently small to swap to superior lithium-ion technology. In many cases, only capital constraints make private mini-grid developers opt for low CAPEX lead-acid batteries. Most of the mini-grid developers interviewed expect to pursue the technology shift within the next two years. Many also have stated that they would be interested in training from storage manufacturers.

It can also be observed that many developing target countries of rural electrification have, so far, no experience with lithium-ion batteries. This could lead to unexpected costs regarding export or transport. For example, in Kenya and Tanzania, lithium-ion batteries are subject to PVoC (Pre-Export Verification of Conformity) procedures.

First developers already use lithium-ion batteries to ensure that the plants they are building right now will still be viable in the future when the full cost degression potential of the new technology will have been realized. Other energy storage technologies such as flow-batteries so far do not play an important role in this segment. Despite a good fit from a technical point of view, further cost cuts are needed to make flow technology economically viable in rural electrification.

Amongst the main markets for energy storage solutions in the mini-grid segment are India, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Haiti. The recent investments in rural electrification will enable the construction of several hundred mini-grids per year. The market segment will finally come to life — also from a commercial perspective. In the short-term we will see an annual market potential of 50 MWh — in the long-term, this could raise to 1 GWh. Storage manufacturers should consider entering this market early.



Why we need a subsidized energy access for remote and poor households 

The off-grid industry has started with the clear goal of providing power supply, especially for remote and poor people. However, the industry has to admit today that it cannot reach this target group with the existing models of distribution and financing.

The sale of solar systems via end-customer loans (pay-as-you-go / PAYG) proves to be an effective financing and sales instrument. But today's business strategies only reach a portion of the 1.2 billion people without electricity. On the margins remain those who either live in regions with very low population densities or those who are simply too poor to pay a price for solar systems, which enables companies and their investors to make a good profit.

Especially those target groups, for whom many companies say they work for in their mission statements, remain underserved. This is not new knowledge and has been repeatedly complained about. Finally, the off-grid industry association GOGLA in its "Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report” at the beginning of 2018 found that the expectations regarding impacts are often not reached, and in particular the lowest-income population little benefited from the current fascination of investors about the PAYG approach. Regarding the current orientation of the off-grid industry, GOGLA clearly states: "Majority of efforts today are focused on the higher-income segments within villages and peri-urban segments."

Of course, there is no objection to the fact that companies turn their attention primarily to the customers, who enable them a sufficient business, the hope for profitability and thus new investor funds. However, it is surprising and also frightening that there is still no business approach in the off-grid sector to really provide all people with at least a basic energy supply.

Presumably, a purely profit-oriented approach is not in a position to reach the goal of "sustainable energy for all". Presumably, a mix of for-profit and non-profit elements is needed - as it has been the case with traditional forms of energy supply for decades.


The business model of other energy sources

Diesel and kerosene: With these forms of energy, the devices (generators, lamps) must be bought by the off-grid households at the market price. The required fuel (diesel, kerosene) is then highly subsidized - and yet is often hardly affordable for people in remote and off-grid areas. Households even find themselves in financial dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels. Ultimately, subsidies benefit the suppliers and dealers of diesel and kerosene, who can sell their fuels profitably because of the high subsidy.

Grid power: Unlike fossil fuels, it is the connection to the power grid that is here usually highly subsidized, but not the price of the purchased electricity. But even this approach does not provide a viable solution, because a) the expansion of the power grid in remote areas is unpayable, and b) even in urban and peri-urban regions, the price of electricity is often so high that people cannot afford it. Just recently, the Kenyan energy provider, for example, has had to admit that millions of households are connected to their electricity grid but consume little or no electricity because it is simply too expensive.


Subsidized Sun-Connection instead of subsidized grid-connection

Fossil energies and grid electricity prove very nicely that even the old technologies can only survive economically with a mix of non-profit and for-profit. So why should the off-grid industry be forced to pursue a pure for-profit approach?

A possible new approach could be rather to apply the current approach to grid electricity to decentralized solar technology and to subsidize access to energy. Only that it is now just an access to the sun instead of access to the power grid: the purchase of a basic solar system (3 LED, mobile phone charging) is made possible for all households at a subsidized price.

Since the subsequently consumed electricity - in contrast to grid electricity - is generated free of charge, the heavy burden on households caused by increasing expenditure on fossil fuel or grid electricity is eliminated. The sun sends no bill! The electricity reaches the remote and poor people without additional costs.

It is therefore time to redirect subsidies for old energy technologies to decentralized energy solutions. Then a reliable supply of electricity to the remote and poor areas would be possible. But of course, this is a wish that the economic profiteers of the previous subsidy will oppose with all their might. On the other hand: that alone is no reason to give up the idea.


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