How investing in free solar power can prove a winner in Africa’s Don Bosco technical college network
Kenyan runner-up in the European Training Foundation’s Green Skill Awards 2022
Africa’s Don Bosco technical colleges may have its headquarters in Kenya, but the 109-member network has sites across 34 Sub Saharan African countries.
A winner in the European Training Foundation’s Green Skill awards 2022, the Don Bosco TVET college in Onitsha, Nigeria is leading the way for the network as an exemplar of a practical approach to reducing energy costs – and improving education opportunities.
In Onitsha frequent national grid blackouts meant that students could not use electrically-powered machines essential for practical training. Using diesel back-up generators was both costly and polluting.
Living under sunny skies, the college invested in photovoltaic solar panels – and created their own source of renewable electricity.
Project coordinator Thomas Faber says that the lessons learned can be used to spread the idea across the Don Bosco network.
“We can use this successful example to secure future funding and partnerships that will strengthen the TVET centres in our network,” Thomas says.
But it is not a simple challenge, he adds “The 'green' projects are so far implemented in five countries,” Thomas says. “Unfortunately, solar energy on the level of Onitsha is an expensive initial investment. However, there are easier activities that can be implemented across the board – such as waste and water management, green clubs, and solar technology education.”
Onitsha used industry-standard 80kVA photovoltaic solar panels, teaching students how to construct a generating station suitable to the college, and the maintenance required to keep it in tip-top condition.
A solar energy manual was created, ‘green’ clubs established, and a course on Renewable Energy and Solar created that more than 200 students have taken.
The model is certainly transferable – given the will and the funding, Thomas observes.
“Where power supply is unreliable or overly expensive, and the possibility for the sizeable initial investment is there, this is a great model. Not only is the power free after initial investment, it gives the students a chance to learn the technology first hand. Preparing them for work in solar electrical maintenance, this is very much an ongoing project for us.”
The project offers a lesson in how colleges can take the initiative in solving their problems.
Don Bosco has used the Onitsha example to raise awareness at round-tables and at its annual stakeholder conference. In partnership with AHK – the German Industry and Commerce delegation in Eastern Africa – the solar training curriculum is being developed, along with training in the use of low consuming bulbs and appliances.
Thomas has straightforward advice for those who wish to enter the ETF Green skills competition in the future.
“Identify the problems and possible solutions that a project can offer together with the implementing party on the ground,” he says.
“There was always a high level of ownership in our successful centre, making a project more likely to succeed.”