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Solar energy training in Mali

Training & Education

Thirteen percent of the world’s population does not yet have access to (sustainable) electricity; this has to change. It is one of the Sustainable Development Goals and the goal of the UN campaign ‘Sustainable Energy for All.’ PUM contributes to this: around thirty PUM experts, united in the PUM Solar group, carry out solar energy projects.

Frans van der Loo, expert in the energy sector, visited Association Jeunesse Action Mali (AJA Mali) in October. Frans: “Only 15% of Mali’s population has electricity. AJA Mali’s goal is empowerment and they train women and young people to foster self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Every year, around 300 participants from at least 30 villages follow practical courses in various sectors: agriculture, cattle, management, metal, IT, and since last year, solar energy as well.

Multi-year collaboration

PUM has a multi-year collaboration with AJA Mali to improve education, training, and the organisation as a whole. My mission was twofold: to help improve and actualise the solar energy course and to make one of the school’s solar systems more functional. Through previous visits by other PUM experts and contact with AJA Mali before my visit I already knew a lot about the organisation, but not much about the solar energy course. Therefore, I had to guess at what presentations, books and equipment to bring to Mali.

Upon arrival it became clear that the educational situation was fairly basic. Mister Diallo, the solar energy teacher, invited me to teach the course to a group of students. As it turned out there was no computer, just a flip over and markers. Also, both the students’ and the teacher’s math skills turned out to be limited. I left my big ambitions and advanced presentations about solar energy in my suitcase. Luckily, I always take my WakaWaka sun lamp with me: there is no better educational tool. Using that I could easily visually explain the principles and importance of solar energy. ‘Monsieur, I want one of those too’, it sounded from all sides.

‘Gradually the insight in the calculations and the solar installation grew’

In consultation with Diallo I focused on designing an (autonomous) solar installation on battery power. Some calculations are inevitable: How large is the desired power consumption? How many solar panels are necessary? And how many batteries? I put a series of simple sums and exercises on the flip over, from an electrical circuit to a solar battery system, and went through them with the students. Of course, they first had to try it out themselves, and gradually the insight in the calculations and the solar installation grew.

When we as experts work together and exchange information, we can make useful connections. PUM colleagues have visited solar energy businesses in Mali before; this provided guidance for my mission. Technicians of these companies participated in the course and they even found it educational! Because of their experience, they were able to explain parts of the course as well.

From theory to practice

After the theoretical part of the course, we went to the practice field with the solar installation that did not function properly in Baguineda, at a two-hour drive from Bamako. Together with the students, we dove underneath the solar panels to check its features and circuits. One of the technicians knew exactly how to measure the system, much better than I did! He took over my role as instructor while I measured the installation with the students. Together we reached two improvements: a different battery charger and more solar panels, given the energy consumption. Slowly but surely they got the hang of the approach!

Teaching was fun, but not my role as PUM expert. Diallo had to be able to teach the solar energy course; the transfer of knowledge was important. I therefore involved him in teaching the course as much as possible. We went through the materials we touched upon in the course every afternoon, guided by several instructional presentations I left behind.

Useful contribution

I left Mali feeling that I made a useful contribution. I assisted in the education of 22 future entrepreneurs in solar energy. I also helped these engineers get in touch with businesses and organisations, so that AJA Mali may attract more participants and financial means in the future. This way they can contribute to ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ in Mali.

And my WakaWaka’s? I left them behind in Mali, they were very welcome there!”

Frans A. van der Loo worked as a physics teacher and focused on renewing the physics curriculum. He joined a wind cooperative in 1986 and has been working on sustainable energy ever since. He worked at Senternovem, now the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy on promoting wind energy on land and energy transition.

Text: Frans van der Loo / Victorine Nillesen