Technology has the potential to change lives across Africa. But for the continent to achieve its full potential, its people must be empowered with cost effective, readily available energy. Sivan Yaari, Founder & CEO of Innovation: Africa discusses the impact new innovative technologies can have across a number of sectors and how easily accessible these technologies can be.
Technology and innovation are two key drivers that can push Africa to the next level of socioeconomic growth. The spread of networks, artificial intelligence, drone technology, enhanced digitisation and other transformative emerging technology is driving the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The reality is that these technologies often come at a cost that many are simply may be unable to carry. Infrastructure limitations, access to devices and education are also factors that can hinder digital transformation leaving many communities lagging. But there are readily available technology innovations which come at a fraction of the cost that can have immediate life-changing impact.
Access to technology does not have to rely on digital transformation. According to the World Economic Forum, “When you consider the historiography of the internet and digital innovation, little is written about Africa’s role. Although illiteracy among adults in sub-Saharan Africa was 34.7% in 2019, innovation on the continent has taken different forms thanks to the richness of its culture and lifestyle.” Essentially what the World Economic Forum is saying is that by shifting the lens through which we understand the pain points of Africa’s most vulnerable, cutting-edge solutions can be developed by coupling technology to socio-economic welfare. This includes innovations that can substantially impact healthcare, education, agriculture, economic stability, gender equality, and so forth.
How? By turning to the most reliable and affordable energy source available that holds the power to drive the development of technologies: the sun.
There is abundant solar energy available across Africa. The continent receives more hours of sunshine than any other continent on earth, according to the World Sunshine Map. Since 2010, the price of solar energy has decreased by 89%, making it the most affordable form of energy in history. Off-grid renewable energy solutions can provide clean, reliable and cost-effective sources of electricity and clean water that can significantly impact communities.
Take the development of Innovation: Africa’s Energy Box, which has the capacity to provide enough power to light an entire school or medical centre, as well as power laptops and medical equipment. The Energy Box uses a Lithium-Ion battery and LED lights to provide an optimised, scalable and long-lasting solution for rural clinics and schools across Africa. “It can also be monitored remotely allowing our team of engineers as well as our donors to keep track of how much energy is produced/consumed at any of our projects and issue an alert, should any problems arise.” Yaari explains. The impact this Energy Box can have on healthcare and education is staggering.
Nearly 60% of all healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to reliable electricity for lights, essential medical equipment or vaccine refrigerators. In rural areas, a visit to a clinic often requires an arduous journey by foot. In health centres, solar energy enables doctors to operate safely at night and enables the use of medical equipment, including solar refrigerators for the storage of vaccines and medicines. Solar energy in schools increases the level of education a student receives, as they can study under the light and utilise computers for the first time.
In terms of agriculture, farming lies at the heart of Africa’s economy and has an extensive social footprint. It accounts for 14% of the total GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the majority of employment for the continent’s population. But, due to increasing water scarcity, Africa is simply not able to reach its full agricultural potential. Serious adverse effects on food security and on livelihoods at the regional, national and individual household levels are becoming increasingly prevalent.
Solar-powered, efficient micro-irrigation, for example, is increasing farm-level incomes by five to 10 times, improving yields by up to 300% and reducing water usage by up to 90%. This has incredible economic impact for communities relying on farming to keep themselves sustained and bring in life-changing revenue.
Israeli-invented drip irrigation, a technology that enables communities to close their water gap, is entirely powered by solar energy pumps. Drip irrigation enables farmers to produce more with less water and energy, improving their incomes and resilience to drought, floods, and other climate-related extremes. This technology not only dramatically improves food security but also empowers economic development and financial independence. Pioneering climate-smart agricultural technology like solar-powered drip irrigation is crucial in the bid to create sustainable futures.
We have seen first-hand through our extensive work across Africa, the impact that access to solar energy can have on communities, and how innovative technology can empower growth and change lives. The technologies exist, they are environmentally friendly and affordable. The time is now for African leaders to reimagine their energy policies and commit to bringing solar power to rural communities to support the culture of innovation that forms such a dominant part of life in Africa.