It is the year 2014 and we are on the road in Mali, more precisely to the village Mourdiah. The story of Mourdiah also marks the beginning of the long history of Africa GreenTec.
In June 2014 we accompanied the President at the time, Diankounda Traoré, to the home village of his wife. The president himself comes from Nara, the neighboring town. At that time it was very important for our team to find an internationally recognized patron for the first prototype.
Accompanied by the president, our team was welcomed with great fanfare during the first visit. Back then, we had next to no experience of the conditions under which we would be implementing the project. The Solartainer so far had only existed as a concept out of a 3D printer.
After the location for a first pilot project had been found, Torsten was able to convince several friends to privately invest in the construction of a prototype. By March 2015, the other part was successfully financed through the platform “bettervest” (which Torsten co-founded) as what was then the first lending-based crowdfunding project in Africa. This was unheard of in 2015, as no African project had ever been financed directly and immediately by a German crowd before.
Using the equity capital and the crowd loans, we built the first prototype out of a 20-foot shipping container in collaboration with Bauersachs in May 2015. In July 2015, the container embarked on its long journey as the crowd followed along live.
It finally arrived in Mali in September 2015 along countless routes and after even more adventures. Aida Schreiber and Lamine Diallo spent several days fighting with customs officials at the border between Senegal and Mali. Together with our technicians Seydou Camara and Mohamed Diarra they set up the equipment and instructed the new customers in the use of LEDs and electricity.
It turned out that the Solartainer was heavily damaged during the truck transport so that the following months were spent repairing the unit as well as possible. Unfortunately, our supplier had gone bankrupt in the meantime and the warranty was void, meaning that all repairs hat to be paid for privately by Torsten and Aida. Charly, (+) our co-founder and managing director, travelled to Mourdiah several times to instruct clients and to upgrade the grid.
Luckily, we were able to rely on our personal connections on location during this exciting time. Aida’s brother-in-law installed the power grid under the supervision of Mamadou Sall, who has extensive experience in Mali. In total, we built a 2.5 km long power grid and provided connection to 120 families.
In January 2016, the unit was ceremonially launched by our team together with the president. Back then, the Nara region’s security situation was still a little more relaxed, so that the president as well as Torsten and his team were able to spend the night in the village.
During this time, the Schreiber couple also formed friendships with the Presidential Guard, which are still an important part of our security service today. The next morning, we argued over world politics with the President of Mali and the President of the National Assembly over breakfast at the house of the griot of Mourdiah, which was also the beginning of a close and lasting friendship between Diancounda Traoré and the Schreiber couple.
In the course of the following year 2016 we were able to gain extensive experience with our original business model. The original business model was based on an installment purchase, whereby the plant is purchased by the village community. All 120 families would pay a monthly amount of 20 €, so that after 10 years the facility is owned by the families.
Unfortunately, this led to conflicts between the families after only a few months, as the amount of electricity was shared disproportionally among the individual households. Some used up to 40 lamps for their house, while others used 1, all the while paying the same monthly contribution.
Based on the data from Mourdiah, Africa GreenTec then developed the Solartainer Amali as well as the operater-based system supported by smart meters, in which the energy is sold to clients in 4 price tiers through a pre-paid system.
In spring 2017, we also implemented an intermediate level in the Mourdiah plant, using analogue electricity meters to at least distribute the electricity more fairly. The cooperative model was then discontinued and we switched to the operator-based model in Mali. The operational management was initially handled by our network construction partner EMS Electric.
From then on, financing was carried out by Africa GreenTec AG (Inc.). In mid-2017 the battery broke down due to high temperatures. As our first partner had gone bankrupt in the meantime, we couldn’t get a replacement and decided to convert the distribution to a hybrid system.
Mourdiah today: Due to the current security conditions in the Nara region, replacing the Mourdiah unit with a new Solartainer is proving to be difficult. Next year, Mourdiah is set to receive a complete relaunch, incorporating a new power storage technology and increasing the total capacity of the plant. The plan is to expand the network to 300 customers, which will also establish the economic profitability of the site.
Mourdiah has been the single most important experience to this day, as it was there that we learned from our initial mistakes and were able to experiment with all the technical upgrades – especially in the area of grid control – that led to the development of the new generation of the Solartainer: Amali.
It was only after 2017 that Africa GreenTec introduced its actual business model with new pilot projects in Amaloul, Niger (AGT16-001) and Djoliba, Mali (AGT16-002). But we will tell about that another time.
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