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Eight years of Solar Home Systems
Eight years ago, when projects began to introduce solar photovoltaic systems to the people of Senegal, few guessed how important the role of NGO's would be to this effort. Now, the maintenance and dissemination of Solar Home Systems (SHS's) are in the hands of 11 local organisations and their national NGO, FOPEN Solaire.
Valuable lessons can be learned from the way in which PV dissemination and maintenance are organised in this country, which is situated at the western corner of Africa.
Focus on Maintenance
FOPEN Solaire was formed in 1994 by local cooperatives, in order to pool their resources and provide an advisory body for the dissemination and maintenance of SHS's. At that time, the market for SHS's was at a level of 300 per year and expanding after the removal of import duties on PV materials. That same year the devaluation of the currency (CFA) decreased the general purchasing power to a level at which very few could afford a SHS. While there are more than 1500 SHS's in Senegal, currently FOPEN only distributes 100 new systems per year, while an additional 100 (approximately) are distributed via private companies in Dakar. Now the main activity of FOPEN is to provide spare parts, and train the approximately 30 technicians of the member associations. Most of the spare parts for SHS's are only available through FOPEN outside of Dakar.
Batteries and Controllers: Lessons Learned
The major components of SHSs that need maintenance and replacement are the battery and the electronic charge controller. It is well known that batteries will not last more than two to four years in SHSs, but in spite of that, the associations in FOPEN found that several of the users could not replace defective batteries because of lack of funds. To overcome this problem, FOPEN organised an instalment plan whereby SHS users pay 45% of the battery cost when they receive a new battery and the rest over as much as four months. An unexpected problem of the SHSs was that some of the charge controllers were not functioning after only two years. If a nonfunctional charge controller is not repaired, it can reduce the lifetime of the battery severely via over-charging or over-discharging. While a new charge controller is expensive, the nonfunctional part, often a transistor or a minor integrated circuit (IC), usually is quite cheap. To solve this problem in the cheapest way for the users, FOPEN established a workshop in which such nonfunctional charge controllers can be repaired. Each of the member associations of FOPEN has a workshop to handle simple repairs, but problems with electronic components are handled only by the FOPEN workshop.
Maintenance is a Limiting Factor
ENDA has studied the barriers to increased use of SHSs. In the areas outside the reach of the technicians of the FOPEN associations, it was found that many potential users who might be able to purchase a system, refrained from doing so for fear that they could not afford to maintain the system or get spare parts for it. To address this problem, and to be closer to the members, FOPEN moved from Dakar to the village of Diosmone, almost 100 km east of Dakar and close to the middle of the area covered by the FOPEN associations. This move will make it easier to increase the outreach of the maintenance service beyond the 40% of Senegal that is covered today, and to reach more of the eastern part of Senegal, where many potential users live.
The Way Ahead: Finance
Studies of ENDA also showed that all households that use more than 5,000 CFA/month ($9/month) on their energy needs (kerosene for lighting and batteries for radios) could benefit economically using a SHS. In rural Senegal, this adds up to about 30% of the 420,000 households that do not have access to the electric grid. The size of this potential of approximately 130,000 households contrasts sharply with an estimated 1,600 SHSs currently in use in rural Senegal. For those families living within the reach of the FOPEN associations, the main obstacle is a lack of funds. To overcome this, ENDA and FOPEN are working on a proposal for a new financing mechanism for SHS users. More information: ENDA-Energie, B.P. 3370, Dakar, Senegal. Ph: +221-8-225983/-222496. Fax: +221-8-217595/-235157, e-mail:
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Sustainable Energy News
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ISSUE #20 Sustainable Energy News (16 pages) (1998-02-01)
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