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17 November 2016

Samson Tsegaye Lemma

Not too long ago you would hear a frustrated moan in development aid circles whenever the conversation turned to „photovoltaics and Africa“: „o yeah … a nice idea! All that sunshine in Africa, so one really should … But the technology is too sophisticated and too vulnerable. Too bad …„ Samson Tsegaye Lemma was born in Addis Adeba in 1966 and raised there. He must have heard this usual pessimistic sigh when he, by now with a degree in civil engineering, became involved with solar energy in 2002. But Samson was not to be discouraged. He experimented with existing material – the photovoltaic systems that were available at the time – made them Africa-compatible and installed the first systems in rural „tukuls“, the traditional Ethiopian huts. He did so in his spare time and with his own money. And a lot of time was needed to lure the village communities onto the path of (solar) illumination.

In 2005, Samson and others, who were hoping for more solarelectrification, had the necessary bit of luck: The German solar entrepreneur Dr. Harald Schützeichel was looking for „a good man on the spot” in northern East Africa for his Solar Energy Foundation project (SEF), someone innovative who knew the country, the language and the current technology. The pioneer and the founder of the foundation found each other, and what had started as a grassroots initiative grew and soon became a model project for better times. In June 2006 Samson was appointed Director of the Solar Center in Addis Abeba launched by Schützeichel. By now can he show the gentle progress point by point:

  • About 30,000 solar lighting products have been sold
  • 65 solar technicians have been trained by SEF
  • Two solar training centers have been established in the country – so far the only ones in Ethiopia.
  • Four villages have been solar electrified
  • One of these villages, Rema, has solar water pumps and disinfection facilities
  • 157 schools are solar-lit
  • 35 scattered health stations use solar systems for lighting and cooling systems
  • An estimated 300 individuals and initiatives have been advised by Samson

The solar electrification of households is not free, because „what costs nothing is worth nothing,“ according to Samson. In the villages the households get the necessary technical equipment under a „cost-sharing“ model. A quarter of the cost is paid by the receiver, three-quarters by the Foundation. And each household pays one euro per month for maintenance and operation into an account managed jointly by the foundation and the villagers. The money is also used for replacement of the battery, which is necessary after five or, at the latest, seven years.

Samson describes the effects of his work: „For the people in the village the working day ends at 6.30 pm at the latest. Then it gets dark. Only 5% of the rural population have access to electricity – and 85% of the 90 million Ethiopians live in rural areas. Solar light creates economic improvement. Stores can stay open in the early hours of the night, when the people who have worked hard all day in the fields have time.„