Hello again to everyone,
Summer is nearly upon us in Lesotho, and our team is excited to share a bit about the work they've been doing with the communities here in Lesotho.
Much of our work over the past few months has been critical communication and learning from the communities where we work. This is an important part of the 20MW project - making sure we understand how the project will affect people's lives and livelihoods, and if necessary updating the project design to make sure the impacts of the project are as positive as possible. It is also a critical step in the design of community minigrids - understanding how much power people might need, how much they can afford, and how many buildings in each village should be connected. At this juncture our team has become expert at the process - one of our fellows this year even designed a custom tablet-based app for our team so that the process of data collection and of data sharing can be more efficient! It was very exciting to see that come online.
One other piece of exciting news is that we have just signed a lease with the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) for a manufacturing space where we will be able to actually build solar energy hardware in Lesotho and at the volumes needed for all of the community systems we hope to be building. We still have a few months of renovations before we'll be able to move in and get that space up to speed, but I am looking forward to sharing more pictures when that happens!
Wishing everyone a happy holiday season.
Hello again to all of you,
I am writing this month with some very exciting news - for us as an organization but also for Lesotho as a whole!
Since my last update we have been busy with quite a lot of "behind the scenes" work, the tough negotiations and contracting that will put financing in place to make projects happen. I am very proud to say that the results of this is, first and foremost, two huge steps forward on the solar photovoltaic power plant (named "Neo 1" - in Sesotho "Neo" means "gift"). One of these is an initialed agreement with the Lesotho Electricity Company, guaranteeing that they will purchase all electricity we generate -- this is needed for any investors (or banks) to feel secure in putting their money behind the project. (You'll see the "signing ceremony" in the photos!) The second is a completed agreement with two Norweigan groups to Jointly Develop the plant -- i.e., they are bringing both private equity funds and engineering expertise to join the team and make this project a reality.
The ink is still just drying on these agreements, but our team is already hard at work... next steps relate to working with the neighboring community to secure land rights, conducting environmental safety assessments, and securing the necessary permitting from the government. Construction is still likely 6-9 months away, but we are very excited to have the process under way!
Another very exciting aspect of this deal is the fact that OnePower has committed its profits from the 20MW power plant to accomplishing our mission to build community minigrids in Lesotho. This first milestone has already allowed us to put forward the cost-share required to receive a Feasibility Study grant from the European Union Electri-FI program ("Electrification Financing Initiative"). The result of this study, which should be completed by late 2018, will pave the pathway to procuring bank loans needed to scale up our minigrids program. We have already taken the preliminary results of this study to potential funders, with positive response. I am looking forward to sharing more on this in future reports!
My apologies for the absence of exciting field photos in this report - it's pretty chilly in Lesotho! And though office work is not as photogenic, we're thrilled with what we have to share and the upcoming work from the field that it will enable...
Thank you again to all of you who are along for this crazy ride with us - it's been a busy 2018 so far and still much to come.
Hello again everyone!
I am very pleased to be sending this update, as Lesotho transitions out of summer and at the same time we are starting to welcome our "summer interns" from the northern hemisphere.
It's been a very exciting past few months - you've all been following along with us as we are bringing Ha Makebe's pilot minigrid online, and the team has been putting the final whistles and bells on the system as we await final authorization to move the generation infrastructure into place. (You'll see in the attached photos the team at Ha Makebe prepping the PV site and at headquarters testing the electronics for automated backup power and online error reporting.)
At the same time this year we are spinning up an extensive fellowship and internship program - between 5-10 individuals - led by our new Operations Manager Tamer (some of you may remember him from previous reports - he spent more than a year in Lesotho as our Project Manager a few years back). The fellowship program is welcoming international students from three different countries to Lesotho during 2018 to work on projects as varied as measuring development impacts of minigrid installation, outreach to career development programs for women, engineering design, and electrical system modeling, with individuals at every stage of education from undergraduate level to post-PhD. The internship program recruits domestic engineering students for 6-month attachments - often but not always as part of their degree program - to focus on projects like design and deployment of smart meters for studying electricity usage as well as giving interns insights into careers in the energy sector.
In the background we are making steady progress toward permitting and contracting for our larger on-grid and off-grid projects, kicking off a Feasibility study for Minigrid Development in Lesotho in early May with support from the EU's ElectriFI program! I am looking forward to sharing more on that in the next update.
As always I would like to reiterate our gratitude to all of you for your ongoing interest, and in many cases financial support. We couldn't do what we do without so many cheerleaders!
Until next time,
Hello again to all of you,
I hope that 2018 has been treating everyone well, and we are excited to be sending you news from Lesotho! Our team has been incredibly busy these past months working on two big projects, and I’d like to give all of you a sneak peak of where we’re planning to go during the rest of 2018.
The first major project is the completion of the minigrid at Ha Makebe, which you have all been watching from afar for the past year or so. We are doing some last upgrades on the energy system (increasing the capacity to account for a few extra connections at a school and church in the village), aiming for installation within the next few months – a photo shows you the new larger-capacity PV tracker currently in validation at our headquarters at ATS in Maseru.
In parallel with this pilot system installation, however, behind-the-scenes we have been laying the groundwork for a roll-out of 25 minigrids across Lesotho over the next 2-3 years. This will be an incredible investment in Lesotho and improvement to the services experienced by rural Basotho, and we are thrilled to be in the last stages of fundraising for this effort. The pen hasn’t yet hit the paper, but I am hopeful that in my next announcement I will have more news on this front!
The other immense effort we have been undertaking for the past 18 months is the development of a proposal for Lesotho’s very first utility-scale solar power plant – a project the government conceived of and sent out for bid in 2016 and for which our team was selected as Preferred Bidder! Since that initial designation we have been building up a team, including internationally experienced funding and engineering firms with experience building similar plants across southern Africa and the globe, to bring the best possible design proposal to the government. In parallel we have been working with the communities in the area where this plant will be located – you’ll see me at the most recent Pitso (community meeting) in one of the photos – to ensure that the energy-independence win for Lesotho is also a win for the communities living near the site. It has been an interesting, complex, and very fun process so far, and I am also looking forward to sending updates as we move through the final contracting stages with the government so you’ll know when to keep an eye out for construction to start.
As part of these market-driven efforts and successes, in January 2018 we have finally officially spun-out 1Power Lesotho – the for-profit enterprise that will be driving this work forward. The 1Power inaugural team is built of the hard working individuals who have been helping STG in this direction for so many years, and wearing my STG Director hat I have to say I am immensely proud to finally have our hard work incubating these ideas and building the pipeline come to fruition in this way! And under my new 1Power Lesotho Director hat, I am very, very excited for things to come.
Independent of this change of name, I am looking forward to continuing to share news of our progress with all of you. Thank you again for the support you have provided over the years to help us get to where we are today!
Hello again everyone!
It's springtime in Lesotho, and the team is incredibly excited to send some updated photographs of progress at Ha Makebe as the microgrid distribution infrastructure gets plugged in to the individual customer buildings and we finalize the power generation component. As you saw in my last update, our team has been learning a ton this year, with tutelage from partners at PowerConsult (who built the PV system for the Lesotho airport and who has also done grid extension work in the country), and it is so satisfying to see this knowledge coming to life right away in Ha Makebe.
I believe I have mentioned in the past that many of our customers-to-be in Makebe already have their buildings wired internally (the village was expecting to be connected to the main grid several years back – a project that unfortunately never materialized). As such, our team has been able to make the building connections relatively easily: for each household, we add a commercial “readyboard” (essentially a circuit breaker box that also has a few outlets integrated), a smart meter (to measure and bill electricity usage), a grounding rod (Lesotho is one of the lightning capitals of the world!), and the wires up to the distribution grid.
In parallel, in anticipation of rapid customer growth, we have doubled our generation capacity ahead of installation – you’ll see in the images our new extra-capacity PV tracker system. We are in final validation of the new system at ATS and planning to have this out to the village in the next few months! Correspondingly, we grew the storage capacity. Our team put together a cool new design for storage of the batteries (informed by the inconvenience of some of the battery storage systems we saw earlier this year during our health clinic evaluations): batteries are installed on sliding trays on each level, enabling removal of a subset of the batteries should any maintenance be required. (You’ll see the team welding together the frame in the pictures.)
We are looking forward to sending you more photos as these move out to Makebe, and would love to hear from any of you if there are parts of the project you’d like to see more photos of in coming updates! And as always, I would like to end with a note of gratitude, for the enthusiasm and interest all of you continue to send my way each time I have the opportunity to speak with you about our work. With best wishes for the upcoming holidays, from the whole STG team.
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