Solar energy for African entrepreneurs
The Finnish Solar Fire Concentration is testing solar energy technology in Africa that is suitable for small-scale entrepreneurs. Business Partnership Support from Finnpartnership accelerated launching the pilot projects.
Small-scale business activities can create a lot of new jobs and income in developing countries, but problems with energy supply create limitations to the growth of many companies. Energy is often too expensive or there is not enough of it available. In addition, the only available forms of energy may cause a lot of emissions.
Solar Fire Concentration Oy offers innovation to solve the energy problems where small-scale entrepreneurs can utilise thermal energy from the sun in their business. There are ten pilot projects underway in Kenya and Tanzania, where the company’s device is used for manufacturing bakery products, for example.
“We have obtained good results from the pilot projects. Solar energy has provided a lot of additional value to the users of the devices”, says Eerik Wissenz, one of the founders of Solar Fire Concentration.
Finnpartnership’s support helped the company get started
Solar Fire Concentration’s partners in the pilot projects are the NGOs World Vision Finland and World Vision Kenya. The company received Finnpartnership’s Business Partnership Support for launching the pilot projects.
“The pilot projects are associated with a lot of uncertainty factors. The support from Finnpartnership helped with getting started with the project. We also received good advice from them”, says Wissenz. In the pilot projects, small-scale entrepreneurs test the company’s device that uses mirrors and focused sunlight to achieve temperatures exceeding 400 degrees.
The heat can be used, for example, to bake bread, roast peanuts, boil water and cook food. The devices can also be used to dry different types of agricultural products, such as fruits and vegetables. “There is a pilot project in Kenya on the shore of Lake Victoria where the device is used to dry fish. The fish dries quickly and there is not enough time for rotting to occur, which is a problem with traditional drying methods”, says Wissenz.
The clean energy produced with the new technology also improves occupational safety, as employees are not exposed to unhealthy impurities in the air. Traditionally, firewood or charcoal that generate smoke are used for cooking.
Training is needed in addition to the devices
Eerik Wissenz, who was born in Canada and is now a Finnish citizen, established Solar Fire Concentration together with his French wife, Eva Wissenz. The couple lives in Tampere.
The solar collection technology of the company established in 2015 was previously developed in Mexico, among other places. Wissenz says that the positive results obtained from the pilot projects in Africa encourage them to continue the cooperation. “The projects do not only assess the suitability of the technology to local conditions. It is also important to examine what type of business activities can be developed with the technology and what factors limit them”, Eerik Wissenz emphasises.
He notes that financing the investments is a problem especially in the poor areas. For this, small loans for small-scale entrepreneurs in particular are needed. According to Wissenz, Solar Fire Concentration’s technology is suitable for many purposes. It can also be used to produce steam to be used as an energy source in different machinery.
The textile industry, for example, uses a lot of steam to dye and clean fabrics. Steam produced by solar energy can also be used to operate the water pumps used to irrigate fields.
“It is essential to make the solar energy device so simple that it is affordable and easy to service. However, the device must be sufficiently powerful that it really generates additional value to users.”
According to Wissenz, the technology that uses solar thermal energy reduces production costs of small-scale entrepreneurs and increases production capacity. The cost savings in fuels frees resources for further investments that can increase production and generate additional income. According to Wissenz, the greatest challenge in increasing the use of solar energy is the lack of training.
“The technology is useless, if people do not know how to install, use or service the devices. There is a critical shortage of electrical installers in Africa, for example. Enough of them are not being trained in relation to the needs.”