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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

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International renewable energy projects to inspire

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 20 June 2011 at 9:27 am

Africa is full of entrepreneurs with good ideas - they don't want hand outs - they just want the same access to finance that we have in the west. So said Suraj Wahab Ologburo, the founder and chief executive of Toyola Energy from Ghana, one of the international finalists in this year's Ashden Awards.

Determination, passion and difficulty getting finance were things shared by the finalists speaking at last week's Ashden Awards conference. In a world where much of the media focus is on things that have gone wrong, it was a great pleasure to spend much of the day listening to inspiring tales of things that have gone right.

Toyola Energy has developed an efficient stove, which cuts down the use of charcoal for cooking by half, with associated cuts in the both expenditure and carbon emissions. What's even more impressive is its business model, which has created lots of small businesses selling the stoves, and the microcredit system it uses: it's a simple pay as you save system - Toyola gives the customer a tin money box, and they put their weekly savings in it, until they can pay it back (I hope DECC's Green Deal plans for pay as you save will be as successful!). Toyola uses the same scheme for selling solar panels, and it is even more successful - the money is paid back out of savings in kerosene and battery use.

Two of the finalists are making energy from agricultural waste. Abellon has replaced coal with biomass pellets for powering industries in Gujarat, India. Crop residues used to be burned in the field. Now, the company is paying farmers for their waste, giving them a new income stream, and significantly reducing the pollution from industry.

Husk Power Systems creates electricity from gasified rice-husk in the Indian state of Bihar, where remote villages don't have access to electricity. Its 65 plants supply electricity to 180,000 people and it has ambitious plans to have 2,014 plants operating by the end of 2014. Before they had electricity people had to travel up to 20km to charge a mobile phone, children couldn't study at night, and kerosene is both dangerous and bad for health. An added benefit of the light is that snakes are scared away, and fewer people are bitten.

Tough stuff international makes solar technology affordable in Africa. It manufactures and markets robust, low-cost solar products to off-grid villages across Africa, bringing the benefits of lights, phones and radio to poor households. In addition they offer opportunities for lots of local entrepreneurs. Their 'business in a box' scheme provides working capital for people either to sell the products on credit, earning c. 25% of the retail price, or to sell services such as phone charging or lamp rental.

In northern Pakistan houses are smoky and cold, and large amounts of wood are used for heating and cooking, causing serious deforestation. The fifth finalist, the Aga Khan planning and building service provides access to affordable energy efficient technologies to help people warm their home, heat their water, and reduce the amount of wood fuel they use. They also provide work for local people who demonstrate and promote the products in their village.

I don't envy the judges having to choose a single winner from among these wonderful projects. They all excellent examplars of what can be done. If only there was more venture capital available for projects like these.

Photos: Ashden Awards

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