Some 6,800 miles away from EarthSpark’s flagship microgrid in Les Anglais, Haiti is the small rural market town of Wanyjok, South Sudan. It’s a different climate, different culture, different context, but the need and opportunity for innovation to solve energy poverty is the same.
For two years, EarthSpark has been working hand-in-hand with SunGate Solar, the longest running solar installation company in South Sudan, to plan and launch the country’s first solar-powered community-level microgrid.
Like Haiti, South Sudan is one of the least electrified countries in the world with only ~7% of people having access to electricity. That leaves over 10.4 million people living without electric power. The absence of electricity critically limits South Sudan’s potential economic development while also limiting the resiliency of communities, households, and businesses.
With support from Creating Hope in Conflict, a Humanitarian Grand Challenge, EarthSpark helped SunGate take a critical step towards addressing this challenge by launching South Sudan’s first solar microgrid in September 2022 in Wanyjok.
Now, with over nine months of successful operation, the SunGate grid is delivering reliable, affordable, 24/7 electricity to 131 connections (over 500 people.) Ninety-eight percent of the customers are reporting no change or a decrease in energy expenses compared to previous kerosene and diesel expenses, and 61% of business customers are reporting improvements in their business operations. The majority of customers are small businesses and institutions including pharmacies, health clinics, computer/printing centers, retail stores, and restaurants.
This life-changing electricity grid has reduced energy costs previously paid for unreliable diesel generators and increased opportunities for local enterprises. The lives of the entire community of Wanyjok (~20,000 people) have also been improved from the microgrid power, particularly through the streetlighting for the downtown market area. Healthcare has improved due to access to reliable electricity, local entertainment businesses are staying open later into the night and opening earlier in the day, and people are feeling more secure with a well-lit marketplace. All of this helps to bolster community resilience and socio-economic development.
Before the mini-grid, diesel power was very expensive and it wasn’t reliable at all. What was worse is that the power surges would constantly damage our computers and equipment - we would sometimes lose 1-2 machines a month. Now, the mini-grid provides cheaper, more reliable power and I don’t have to worry about damage to my computers - I can just focus on teaching my students!"
Building on EarthSpark’s innovative “Kwison Elektrik” electric cooking research, EarthSpark also supported the SunGate team to develop their own electric cooking pilot which deployed electricpressure cookers for 25 customers in Wanyjok as well as for SunGate’s own operations and some of its commercial solar clients.
Coupling SunGate’s existing stand-alone solar work in South Sudan (over 2 MW across over 200 sites) with the capacity and experience built from this initial pilot project, the SunGate team is now uniquely qualified and quite motivated to scale energy access solutions across the country. To that end, SunGate has secured initial agreements with two state governments in South Sudan to replicate the Wanyjok grid in new communities and also to expand the microgrid solution to a “metrogrid solution” to serve regional capitals.
EarthSpark has been supporting SunGate to develop solar microgrids and electric cooking in South Sudan since 2021 when EarthSpark helped SunGate develop their initial grant proposal for the Humanitarian Grand Challenges. Leveraging lessons learned from our microgrid work in Haiti, EarthSpark has supported SunGate over the last two years to develop a solar microgrid business in South Sudan by providing a variety of advisory services supporting technical microgrid design and operations, capacity building, data reporting and analysis, communications (e.g. reports and website), research, and fundraising/investment. EarthSpark staff were also on-the-ground in South Sudan for 7 months supporting the actual building and commissioning of the solar microgrid.
Reflecting on his seven months in South Sudan and the nearly two years of ongoing partnership, summarized the collaboration with SunGate, Adam Eberwein, Technical Lead at EarthSpark, summarized, “Our EarthSpark team has spent nearly a decade, day in and day out, living and working in the towns where we deliver microgrid services in rural Haiti, making improvements at every step along the way. In spite of all the differences between these two regions, it was a privilege to see how our lessons learned on one side of the world applied so well to the other. Of course, what ultimately drove the success of the project were the existing strengths of the SunGate team in specialties such as engineering, procurement, and customer support in the South Sudanese context, as well as a company culture of being willing and ready to take on every challenge that comes their way. It is because of this experience that I very much look forward to new engagements with other teams also looking to extend energy access to those most in need.”
Our EarthSpark team has spent nearly a decade, day in and day out, living and working in the towns where we deliver microgrid services in rural Haiti, making improvements at every step along the way. In spite of all the differences between these two regions, it was a privilege to see how our lessons learned on one side of the world applied so well to the other."
Overall, the successful microgrid project in Wanyjok has showcased the value of EarthSpark’s highly replicable and intentional approach to microgrid development for integrated energy access EarthSpark is excited to build on this foundational work to and develop additional strategic partnerships to create new pathways for scaling integrated energy access in communities around the world!
Read more about EarthSpark's newly launched Advisory Services offerings here - already the EarthSpark team is discussing inaugural microgrids in other new and exciting geographies. We can't wait to share more stories as that work progresses!
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