02 May 2017
These children in the village of Shinga, in the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, have a newfound enthusiasm for their lessons.
Perhaps because their school didn’t even exist before last year, when this tiny hamlet was supplied with electric power for the first time.
Now, besides the new school, there’s also a health centre, and electric lighting.
For locals, the difference has been like night and day.
SOUNDBITE, Shinga headteacher (French, 40 sec):
“Il y a avant et après. // Avant, le milieu était dépourvu de l’énergie électrique. Et il faisait sombre ! Nous vivions pleinement dans un milieu purement rural. Mais avec ce que nous voyons actuellement, il y a un développement. D’abord, l’école est alimentée. Nos infrastructures sanitaires alimentées par l’énergie électrique, nos bureaux. Nous ne cessons de vous remercier à tout moment. Parce que le moment fait beau, car le village est un village mais pour le moment nous tendons vers l’urbanisation. Donc, avant, c’était le noir ; mais maintenant, nous sommes éclairés.”
[There’s before, and after. Before, the area had no electric power. And it was dark! We really lived in a completely rural environment. But with what we see now, there has been a development. First, the school was supplied; our sanitation was provided with electricity, our offices. We will not stop thanking you continually. Because this is beautiful – the village is still a village but now we are moving towards urbanisation. Before we were in darkness; now we are enlightened.]
Of Congo’s 70 million people, more than nine in 10 have no access to electricity.
Though there are power lines serving the major cities, adapting that high-voltage current for local household use would require huge substations, which just aren't practical for scattered, rural populations.
But Shinga is one of seven villages trialling a new technical innovation, run by national utility company SNEL and developed by engineers at ABB – a “micro-substation” that lets local villages use this power on a completely new scale.
SOUNDBITE, Matej Tolar, Site Manager, ABB (English, 38 sec):
“What we did is we minimised everything. Instead of installing huge substations that cost a lot of money, that are huge solutions, what we did is we kind of bypassed all that – installing one single-phase transformer directly under a power-line which provides enough electricity to cover an area of let’s say 1,500 households without a problem. Which is huge for areas like Congo or other African republics, where they have power-lines running overhead, but actually nothing from them.”
The seven villages involved in the trial have already become local hubs, with markets springing up, and Congolese travelling to consult the medical staff here instead of relying on traditional herbal medicine.
But the biggest thing, say local residents, are the electric lights that mean increased safety and security after dark.
For a country racked by conflict and political instability, that’s a vital step on the path to development – as it is elsewhere in Africa, where access to electricity is a major roadblock for the growth of industry, education and medicine.
Those backing this trial, including the European Investment Bank, say that ABB’s micro-substation technology could be a key part of the solution – creating a brighter, safer future for Africa.
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