Co-founded in February 2014 by internationally renowned music artist Akon, consultant Thione Niang and entrepreneur Samba Bathily, Akon Lighting Africa was established to develop innovative solar-powered systems that will provide electricity to over 600 million continental Africans.
According to reports, over 1.3 billion Africans are without electricity, and of those living in sub-Saharan Africa, only 5 percent have access to electricity, which is usually unreliable. The ALA launched a new “Solar Academy” last summer in Bamako, Mali, which trains eager engineers in installation and maintenance of solar panels and “micro-grids”—small electrical grids that provide power to very limited regions. Micro-grids are increasingly popular in Africa’s rural regions where regular-sized ones are unavailable. So far, ALA has delivered solar power to more than 1 million homes.
“We expect the Africans who graduate from this center to devise new, innovative, technical solutions,” said Niang. “With this academy, we can capitalize on ALA and go further.”
ALA released a statement saying, “Africa has 320 days of sunshine a year … so harnessing solar energy is an ideal way to enable those without electricity to get it.”
Utilizing Africa’s abundant power source emitted from sun may allow the motherland to resolve its current energy issues and to one day be at the forefront of the solar revolution while simultaneously creating local employment.
“We have the sun and innovative technologies to bring electricity to homes and communities. We now need to consolidate African expertise,” Baithily suggested.
Annually, over 3.5 million Africans die from fires caused by candles or toxic fumes in their homes produced by costly gases and oils used for illumination.
“Thanks to solar electricity, we can now forget about kerosene, which is harmful and so expensive,” commented a resident of Senegal’s Thiambokh Village.
So far, ALA has secured a $1 billion credit line from China Jiangsu International, a Chinese solar system provider. ALA also provided rural areas with solar street lamps, micro-generators, charging stations and home kits to 14 countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone).
According to a CNN report, “By 2050, analysts from the International Energy Association believe the sun could be the world’s largest source of power.” In many African regions, some see solar energy as an alternative and safer investment to fossil fuels.
“Electricity is more than light. This is a true change in our daily life”, Yelimane, a mother from Mali, surmised.
“Because of the [lack of infrastructure] in Africa, we need more financial institutions to be a part of it, and partner with people who have a vision for Africa as well,” Akon said in Abidjan after meeting with several heads of states representing Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger and Togo. They were there for the West African Energy Leaders Group.
Bathily added, “We are present in 14 countries and want to expand into an additional 30 countries very soon. Africa needs strategic public-private partnerships to progress. We have one common objective, that is, building a brighter future for our youth.”
The lack of power “stopped us from doing the things we need to do,” he said. “There wasn’t enough electricity to pull from” to get Africa on par with the rest of the world developmentally, and solar was “the biggest and quickest solution.”
The American-born Senegalese singer Akon concluded by saying, “We want to empower the people to develop their own opportunities, but before you empower people, you have to educate them. So we developed the university which focuses on solar energy delivery and maintenance, so they can [eventually] invent technology of their own.”
For more information, visit akonlightingafrica.com.