African projects win Ashden Awards: the annual Ashden Awards are the world's most important prizes given to scientific initiatives for sustainable energy in the developing world. This year they honoured two African projects. Stephen Williams reports.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:SCIENCE
 
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The prestigious Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy 2005 have announced that two African projects have won substantial cash prizes that will help them both continue and expand the work they have pioneered.

The awards, now in their fifth year, reward inspirational and innovative renewable energy projects that contribute towards protecting the environment by curbing deforestation and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels

A project from Rwanda won the Special Africa Award and took home a $45,000 prize, while a project from Nigeria won $15,000 as the second-prize.

The latter is an imaginative collaboration between Nigerian solar entrepreneurs KXN, the University of Maiduguri in Borno State, and BP Solar, a division of the giant energy multinational. What the Nigerian project addressed was the threat to vital immunisation programmes posed by the failure to keep vaccines cool.

Unless vaccines are stored at the required temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, they are worse than useless. That may sound a straightforward challenge--just put them in a fridge. But in a large country with a hot climate, where power supplies are unreliable, portable refrigeration is expensive and vaccines have to be transported for long distances to reach remote communities, it is a huge challenge. But the hot sun that causes all the problems can also hold the solution!

Solar rays converted to electricity via small photovoltaic panels can power fridges. Even if the electricity supply goes down, a solar fridge can keep vaccines fit for use.

Led by KXN's Tony Ighodaro, this project has trained a dozen specialist engineers to install solar power in 90 remote villages in the dry, semi-desert areas of Nigeria's northern Borno State.

These solar installations power a total of 167 fridges. Each fridge stores enough vaccine to inoculate no fewer than 37,000 children against diseases such as polio, TB, diphtheria and whooping cough.

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Many of the children come from semi-no-madic peoples not easily reached by routine healthcare programmes, so the solar fridges are particularly valuable here.

With 167 fridges installed, that means an impressive total of six million children have already benefited from the sun's power to cool. In terms of reliability, KXN has found that solar beats alternative power sources every time. Solar does not come cheap, but the expense pales by comparison with the costs of vaccines being spoilt through not being kept cold.

A single fridge can...

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