Dissin, Burkina Faso: Recharge

Background

Burkina Faso, located in West Africa, formerly known as Upper Volta, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with severe challenges to its development. At present, more than 80% of its population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, and with a literacy rate among men of 30%, and 9% among women, prospects for development are dim in the absence of sustained assistance to build its basic infrastructure and its education system.

Dissin is located in the south-west portion of Burkina Faso in the Sudano-Guinean climate zone, which has a rainy season from June-August and a dry season throughout the rest of the year. As a result of this dry climate, crops are not available for most of the year and malnutrition is common.

Both energy and water for domestic and agricultural purposes are essential needs for building economic and social development, as well as for maintaining political stability in a region plagued by political crises in neighboring countries.

The Need

The small town of Dissin is surrounded by approximately 14 even smaller villages. Along dusty red dirt roads that radiate out from Dissin, these individual villages range in population from several families to several hundred residents. Unlike Dissin, the small size and relative isolation of these individual villages prevents any of them from receiving electricity from the national electric grid. There is little hope that they ever will. A sustainable off-grid electrification solution in these rural villages is needed to enable villagers to manage their own source of energy, insulate them from international energy price fluctuations, and reduce their dependence on costly kerosene for insufficient lanterns. Electrification in these villages enriches village life. When electricity is available, bright fluorescent lights enable students to study after sundown. Cell phones can be charged, giving villagers the ability to communicate using modern technology. Televisions and radios can be turned on, providing entertainment, information, and a chance for community gatherings.

EWB Response - Solar Powered Battery Recharging

An EWB assessment team including an undergraduate student, two graduate students, and a mechanical engineering professor traveled to Burkina Faso in August, 2008 to assess the best way to use solar panels to provide electricity to the villages. Installing a network of solar battery recharging stations, for batteries owned by villagers, was deemed to be a sustainable solution. To assess the local suitability of the project, the team participated in discussions with local community leaders, community members, as well as with Peace Corps volunteers, the African Sustainable Development Council, and other NGO’s working on solar projects in the region.
The EWB team, in partnership with the community in which we will work, has come up with a model for a village-run battery recharging association. This association will manage funds generated by each battery recharging station. When necessary, the association can disperse those funds for maintenance or for expansion of the capacity of the recharging network by building additional battery recharging stations. This model will ensure that the money villagers spend on their electricity will be kept in the local community, effectively allowing them to begin to achieve greater control of their own community, and on a small scale, enriching the local economy. During implementation, EWB plans to educate villagers on solar technology, proper battery use and care, and advantages of electric light. This knowledge will further empower the villagers.

Moving Forward

EWB has spent the Fall 2008 semester prototyping and finalizing a design of the recharging station, as well as developing solar demonstrations and training materials to educate the villagers. The team returned to Burkina Faso in January 2009 to implement the systems. Students and villagers worked together to build battery recharging stations in the villages around Dissin. Part of the EWB team focused on working with the community to set up a local association to manage the charging stations. The team also made improvements to the school lighting systems that were installed in the villages by EWB last January 2008.