Solar energy shows itself to be the unexplored field that could connect Africa to the grid. Numerous start-ups have flourished thanks to this idea. This is the case for Sunna Design, a French company founded in 2011 by Thomas Samuel, the inventor of solar street lamps adapted to tropical climates.
Thomas Samuel received a prestigious prize for this program in 2014, awarded by a review from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the largest universities in America.
The solution proposed by Sunna Design is to create mini electrical networks that can provide electricity to up to four households through the use of one solar street lamp. Their innovation depends on LED (light-emitting diode) lamps, but ones that operate on solar energy. Each of their lamps is capable of powering four houses and resisting extreme heat. These lamps can also be installed in a few short minutes and have a service life of ten years without maintenance. These lamps promise to be independent and environmentally friendly. The households connected to them then benefit from access to energy. A solution that could cost considerably less than kerosene – not bad for a technology made profitable in 3 years.
To create this innovative product, the company invested in research in collaboration with INES (National Institute for Solar Energy), a public French laboratory, and the CEA (Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission, a French government-funded technological research organisation). Because standard solar lamps absorb sunlight but cannot tolerate the heat and are often out of order within a year, the company has invested a considerable amount with the CEA-INES to adapt their lamps to warmer climates.
Sunna first turned to the public African markets for street lighting before expanding to private electrification markets. A pilot project encompassing 500 households will first be introduced in Senegal in March 2016, followed by a similar operation in Benin before summer. It is Bordeaux engineer Thomas Samuel’s goal to raise 20 million euros in investment funds in 2016. The lamps will be produced in a factory in Gironde, and the company is waiting for up-front production costs in order to start the operation. They are counting on “crowdlending,” which asks private investors on the website lendosphere not for donations, but for loans.
The households connected to Sunna’s lamps have enough energy to light the interior of their house and to recharge small electronic appliances like cell phones or radios. The service operates on the basis of prepayments made with their cell phone, a very widespread system in Africa, where few households have a bank account, but 80% of people own a cell phone.
More information on Sunna design website
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