At Schott Corporation, it’s all about the glass: the idea is glass and the powerful ideas that can shine through glass.
The $3 billion company, with corporate offices in Germany and North America, employs about 17,000 people. It has virtually cornered the market on a multitude of glass uses from pharmaceutical packaging to fiber optics to microlithography to glass tubing. But the 125-year-old company’s big push for decades and especially lately is in concentrated solar energy for power plants and photovoltaic technology applications.
The group’s Schott Solar unit has more than 50 years of experience in solar technology. And it sees a major opportunity for solar in Africa. Lars Waldmann, the company’s public relations manager, notes that given Africa’s abundant solar resources and it underdeveloped electric power sector, solar technologies are a big part of the continent’s energy answer.
Waldmann, in a recent Renewable Energy World Magazine article, writes, “Only 26 percent of the population located south of the Sahara Desert has direct access to electricity – making the region one of the least electrified in the world. And furthermore, the number of Africans who still have to live without access to electrical energy is on the rise.”
That situation won’t change without outside help, he continues. Solar energy is Africa’s most important raw material and in the near future solar energy “may well be able to provide the general population with electricity, effectively stimulating the continental economy. This vast resource only needs to be harnessed properly.”
Senegal, in West Africa, has a rapidly growing economy, as evident in its growing energy consumption. Yet only one in every three of the approximately 12 million inhabitants in Senegal is supplied with electricity via the public power network today, Waldmann says. In rural areas, less than 20 percent of the population has access to electrical energy.
In May 2007, under the title of “Project Development in Senegal – Renewable Energies and Rural Electrification,” the German Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) offered German companies an opportunity to exchange ideas with Senegalese partners and institutions. In addition to establishing contacts there, they were also encouraged to present initial business ideas and to develop them further with their partners.
The result, Waldmann says, is that last October Schott Solar and its partners began operating a solar emergency power system for a hospital clinic in Ba√Øla, located in the Province of Casamance in southern Senegal. In the first project, Schott Solar and SMA Solar Technology joined with the Munich-based Kaito Energie AG, which has developed and invested in business-oriented projects in Casamance for several years.
A 5 kW solar power system was installed to supply the clinic with power when the regular network is down, Waldmann said. “The power from the solar modules is initially stored in batteries. If there is a power outage, the system switches over to a so-called mini-grid with virtually no interruption to keep the clinic up and running at all times.”
Schott Solar donated photovoltaic modules and inverter company SMA donated a “Sunny” back-up system to the clinic in Ba√Øla.
In addition to the solar modules, Schott Solar also provided the system technology and supported the assembly. The company and its employees completed the installation as a project within the scope of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. Kaito Energie took responsibility for project management on location and dealt with the local authorities. The village community built the building extension on which the system was installed.
With an emergency room, a delivery room, 10 beds, a pharmacy and accommodation for family members, the clinic in Ba√Øla provides medical care for the people living within a radius of many miles. Until now, the staff had to make do with the simplest of means in the event of a power outage: petroleum lamps and candles provided light and, if there was any extra diesel available, the clinic was sometimes able to run a power generator until they were back on the grid. “These days are now over: the solar power system guarantees an uninterrupted power supply for the clinic around the clock,” Waldmann says.
On the roof of the clinic, 102 Schott Solar modules produce approximately 8 MWh of electrical energy a year, and any surplus energy is stored in batteries.
Businesses doing business with the Sun, a solution whose time has come.