The desire to improve water services in the small villages of Africa is impelling more and more stakeholders to look increasingly towards solar pumping in stead of manual pumping. The objective is laudable, since the aim is to facilitate the lives of users by means of a more modern technical solution. However, at a time in which the sustainability of systems is put forward as being paramount, it may be useful to analyse the situation by taking into account both the technical and the economic aspects simultaneously, rather than considering them separately.
Solar energy: an energy with limits to its durability
Free and infinitely available on a human scale: these features of solar energy are necessary prerequisites for the sustainability of solar systems, although they alone do not suffice.
Let us consider first the technical aspects. Even if solar panels come with a 25-year guarantee for the preservation of 80% of the productivity rate, with complex implementing modalities, the other system components offer, at best, 1 to 2-year guarantees, with lifetimes that remain as yet undetermined. Replacement of these components must therefore be taken into account.
From an economic point of view, beyond the initial investment which remains more significant compared to manual pumps, replacing these technical components and delegating operation and management to a professional come at a cost that has to be borne by the users, and will therefore be reflected in the water service tariffs incorporated in the selling price of the water service.
Reliability and viability: the conditions of a water service
While the maintenance costs of manual pumps are relatively under control today, covering these costs by water service sales remains dependent on deploying reliable technical solutions and optimised management systems. Operating costs of a solar-powered system therefore need to be estimated, along with the impact of an improved service on consumption.
Since maintaining an affordable water service tariff is necessary to ensure no one is excluded, the viability and the economic equilibrium of the system depend on the balance between the operating costs and the water consumption at the point of distribution.
Envisaging the systematic replacement of manual pumps with solar pumps, without resolving this issue, would at best be risky, at worst catastrophic. Under these conditions, how can we speak of sustainability if we disregard the system’s economic equation? Would this not mean reproducing the errors of the past?
An equation to be resolved technologically and economically
Solar energy is undoubtedly a solution for the future of Africa, but it is not a miracle cure. We need to maintain a rational approach, and above all qualify the economic limits of the model. For now, our estimates, based on the current solar technologies and average consumption, leave us sceptical about the economic viability of solar solutions for small centres comprising just a few hundred, or indeed a few thousand inhabitants. Drawing on our experience, the experience of our partners and our daily observations of the users, we are currently seeking solutions to solve this difficult equation and determine the limits and conditions of viability of these systems. It is only by doing this that we will be able to extend more widely, and without compromising the sustainability of the systems and services, the use of solar pumping solutions, including to small villages of only 400 inhabitants.
It is important to remember ‘more haste, less speed!’
I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year!
CEO, ODIAL SOLUTIONS
ODIAL SOLUTIONS commits to the UNITED NATIONS GLOBAL COMPACT
ODIAL SOLUTIONS is first of all a group of enterprises. Our daily concerns consist of meeting our clients’ desires, keeping our employees and partners committed, strengthening our reputation and reducing management fees. Putting in place a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy enables us to tackle these challenges. CSR will be at the heart of the Group’s strategy for the period 2018 to 2023.
2018 will mark a turning point. While VERGNET HYDRO had subscribed to the UNITED NATIONS GLOBAL COMPACT since 2011, we have decided to involve from now on the entire ODIAL SOLUTIONS group, including all its subsidiaries, in order to promote the 10 GLOBAL COMPACT principles.
A list of CSR actions planned for the period 2018-2023
The “Communication on Progress 2018” report, describes the main actions in promoting the 10 GLOBAL COMPACT principles carried out throughout 2017. The conclusion (pages 21 and 22) includes a list of CSR actions planned for the period 2018-2023.
I wish you a pleasant reading.
Chairman, ODIAL SOLUTIONS
To know more :
Communication on Progress 2018
2018 will be an intense teaching year
For several decades, Official Development Assistance has mainly followed the same approach: lend to the cities and give to the countryside. The laudable objective was to provide “free” funding for essential services, such as water, energy, sanitation, health and education, in the poorest communities.
The assessment of these actions in rural areas is unfortunately very poor because, as is well-known, this infrastructure has never really been efficiently maintained. Countless pieces of equipment have simply been abandoned after a few years. Even worse, this financial waste has been overtaken by a social tragedy behind the statistics, which only take into account the systems and not their effective, sustainable operation, and so do not in any way represent the often tragic reality on the ground.
RURAL AFRICA HAS LONG BEEN MIRED IN A WAIT-AND-SEE ATTITUDE
This already very negative finding is even further aggravated by the behaviour encouraged by aid policies. Considered by many as incapable of funding basic services and therefore treated as a simple cost factor, rural populations are mired in a pernicious fatalistic, wait-and-see attitude. They are suffering even more for this attitude now, as the scarcity of public aid is depriving them of the funding they have become accustomed to.
However, the popularity of mobile telephones has demonstrated the extent to which people, even in rural areas, are willing and able to fund the services they need, provided that they work well. What is true for telephones will also be true for other essential services such as water and energy.
RURAL AFRICA SHOULD BE CONSIDERED A GENUINE ECONOMIC ACTOR
It is therefore high time to consider rural areas as genuine players in the African economy. Over half of the continent’s population still live in rural areas and, rather than deploring their alleged inability to adapt to the rules of the market economy, it is our duty to offer them models suited to their specific geographical and financial context.
The aim is to give these dispersed, cash-strapped rural populations access to basic services, especially water and energy, at a cost that is affordable to them. In this way, their freedom of choice and dignity that has been taken away by poorly conceived aid for far too long will gradually be restored to them.
2017, A MILESTONE IN THE HISTORY OF ACCESS TO DRINKING WATER IN AFRICA
2017 is a milestone in the history of access to drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our young subsidiary UDUMA, the first private operator offering people in rural areas the possibility to pay for the sustainability of the water supply services through regular contributions by the volume they consume, recently signed its first Public Private Partnership. More than 500,000 Malians will benefit from this service, starting April 2018 and for the next 15 years at least.
Sub-Sahara African governments are increasingly interested the public service delegation proposed by UDUMA. However, the transition from the « one-time procurement of equipement » paradigm to the « public service delegation to a private operator » paradigm will take more than the blink of an eye. This requires working hand in hand with all stakeholders, and explaining and reassuring.
2018 will thus be a year of intense teaching regarding the « UDUMA » management model and its advantages : universal access to drinking water, improvements in public health and jobs creation. I am convinced this challenge will be a success.
I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year!
Chairman, ODIAL SOLUTIONS