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Interview with Brian Somers

Project Manager at Standard Microgrid; Founder at Solar Head of State; Microgrid Developer at Empowered By Light


Sioma High School

100% Renewable Energy Goal Achieved:

100% of the power for the Sioma High School campus

[Read more about the project ]

    1. What inspired the decision for your community to pursue your 100% renewable energy goal?

Prior to the system installation the school was plagued by a $25,000 diesel fuel bill to power an old, noisy, unreliable, polluting generator that constantly disturbed the learning environment.  By going fully renewable the school has quite, clean, free, reliable power for more hours of the day.

    2. What mix of technologies have you used and/or do you intend to use? Why have you made these choices?

The system consists of 104 Suntech Solar panels, 4 SMA solar inverters, 24 1350 Ah flooded lead acid batteries by Rolls Battery Co., and 3 SMA battery inverters. We chose Suntech, SMA, and rolls for their proven track record of reliability and performance. The system is designed to minimize maintenance requirements.

    3. What have been the greatest obstacles so far? If you have overcome any of them, how did you do it?

The system was funded and built by two American companies, Empowered by Light and Standard Microgrid, respectively. The Western Province is inhabited by the Lozi people, who live very traditionally, with very traditional values. Overcoming the cultural differences has been very challenging, but we've been successful at it by staying patient and adapting to their way of doing things.

    4. Were there policies that were particularly effective to helping your project advance?

Were there any policies or regulations that stood in your way, and if so, how have you handled this?

There is very limited governance in the Western Province, so respecting the tribal hierarchy was imperative to project success.

    5. What are the project costs, and what has been the process of finding investors and financing the project?

The system was constructed at a little less than $6/Wp thanks to our generous sponsors: Empowered by Light, Standard Microgrid, Suntech, SMA, Rolls Battery, Zanaco Bank.

    6. How has the local community responded to or become involved in the project?

We couldn't have done this without the support of the head teacher of the school and the local community. Most of the construction work was completed by local tradespeople hired and trained by Standard Microgrid, and teacher and student involvement has been critical in helping us control peak load.

    7. What have been the greatest benefits of this project so far?

By far the greatest benefit has been an improved learning environment for the students. This improvement has not just come from having reliable electricity, but also because of the increased visibility given to the school, the Zambian government has invested thousands of dollars into the improvement of the living and teaching facilities.

    8. Is there anything else you would like to share with like minded communities who are interested in potentially pursuing a similar project?

We would like to encourage financiers and aid agencies around the world to invest in this type of project. The savings from offsetting diesel fuel far exceed the savings from grid power in the western world and can provide significant cost savings  to consumers with very high return on investment for financiers. There is a sustainable, better way to power our world, and this is that solution.



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