Burkina Faso: The sun is shining on Zagtouli

Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, panneau solaire, AFP
Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso:
The sun is shining
on Zagtouli
Photovoltaic electricity
4
times cheaper than the electricity currently supplied
5%
of the country’s electricity needs covered
400
people have been employed on the site
In Zagtouli, in south-west Ouagadougou, the largest solar power plant in West Africa – and the first in Burkina Faso – has just been built. In a country where the majority of the 19 million inhabitants do not have access to electricity, access to permanent, reliable, cheap and climate-friendly energy changes the lives of the population.

Just as mobile phones conquered Africa without the need to oust a sometimes non-existent wire network, solar electricity could well flood the continent even before there is widespread access to electricity produced from gas, coal or nuclear energy. 
Burkina Faso is currently experiencing this great leap towards the future, passing over polluting energies, thanks to infrastructure that is unique in West Africa. In a country where 80% of the population does not have access to electricity, it was an emergency. 

The Zagtouli solar power plant, which is now in the test phase prior to its commissioning scheduled for 28 November 2017, is thinking big. This state-of-the-art power plant is located at about 15 km from the capital Ouagadougou and is being financed by AFD and the European Union. It will produce some 5% of the country’s consumption, for a price to the final consumer practically four times lower than those of Burkina Faso’s national operator on the conventional grid. There is also an incomparable benefit for the environment. 

Tens of thousands of families are seeing their daily lives completely changed by the electricity from the sky, thanks to interconnections to the neighboring cities of Ouahigouya (180 km to the north of the capital) and Gourcy (140 km to the north-west of Ouagadougou). 

Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, ampère, AFP
Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, Adèle Carine Ouédraoguo, Guebo
Adèle, light for work
In Gourcy, a municipality located 175 km to the north of Ouagadougou, everything has changed thanks to the grid interconnection with the Zagtouli solar power plant. Streets lit up, electrical appliances running all the time and a new way of life which Adèle Carine Ouédraoguo is thrilled about: “Before we got electricity, we were in darkness and insecurity. Our lives have now changed”, says this teacher. “We can watch what’s on TV, catch up with what's happening, develop small trades, especially to sell water or juice thanks to the refrigerator running on electricity.”

Adèle was the first to pay out the 35,000 CFA francs (about 54 euros) for the connection to the electricity grid, after having spent “three years in darkness”. It is something of a revolution for her: “Electricity helps me in my daily tasks, in getting my lessons ready, even when it’s late. At any time of night, I can switch on the light to work”, the young woman who has put her lamp away for good is pleased to say.
Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, Amadou Sana, Guebo
Amadou, business is booming
Amadou Sana is the owner of a public secretariat in Gourcy, which has two photocopiers that used to run on solar energy. He took down his solar panels to be connected to the solar electricity grid. “Since we’ve had electricity, it has put an end to our ordeal and we can carry out our activities, for a reasonable cost”, he says, in front of his secretariat where there are hordes of schoolchildren from Al-Houda High School, which is located nearby.

This father of two is proud of his booming business and intends to buy a refrigerator, which his wife will be able to use to sell water. “She’s a housewife and will be able to have an income-generating activity”, he laughs.

In Gourcy, the interconnection of the electricity grid with the Zagtouli solar power plant has also encouraged people to settle in new neighborhoods. Newly built houses there remained vacant due to the insecurity caused by the lack of lighting. “No one used to live in the neighborhood and they couldn’t find tenants for the houses for rent. But since the electricity arrived, all the houses for rent have been quickly taken”, points out Issa Ouédraogo, a cola seller in the “Kouksin” neighborhood. In Gourcy, over 3,000 households have already been connected to the new electricity grid.
Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, Zida Ramata, Guebo
Zida, a satisfied restaurant owner
The neighborhoods of the city of Ouahigouya, 180 km to the north-west of Ouagadougou, are gradually emerging from darkness. 18,000 households in the city will eventually benefit from an improvement in service quality thanks to the interconnection with the Zagtouli power plant, with 170 km of high-voltage lines and 200 lights installed. Several thousand households are also going to discover the virtues of having electricity every day. This is already the case for Zida Ramata.

This mother of four has been an entrepreneur in catering for 16 years. Her business has been doing better since she has had good quality electricity: “We used to have power cuts that lasted over 12 hours”, she remembers. These outages were difficult to put up with when her restaurant relies on electricity.

But all that is a distant memory: “For some time now, I’ve had electricity 24 hours a day”, Zida is happy to say. “And there are very few power cuts. Even when they happen, it’s only for a few minutes. It’s changed everything in running the business and my turnover is no longer affected”, the dynamic entrepreneur is delighted to say, as she puts the lid back on a pot on the stove.
Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, Innocent Sawadogo, Guebo
Innocent, electricity which changes lives
Innocent Sawadogo is an accountant in a religious missionary organization in Ouahigouya. His neighborhood, called “Sector 1”, has just been connected to electricity. He has vivid memories of years of hardship: “I started off with a small solar panel which supplied me with electricity”, remembers this father of two. “But it wasn’t sufficient. In the evening, we could only put the TV on and after 30 minutes it all went off.”

Since June 2017, Innocent has benefited from electricity day and night. “It’s changed our lives”, he confesses, changing channels using his remote control. But if Innocent is pleased to have electricity, it is not only for him: “It’s also for my children. It’s easy for them to study at any time of night.”

He now hopes that every part of “Sector 1” will be lit up and that his neighbors will be connected: “I’m advocating for them. I live in the light, those who live in the other sectors need to experience this.”
Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, control, Rogard
An outstanding project

It was in 2016 that the project for the solar power plant in Burkina Faso came to fruition, with the construction of a 33 MW power plant with an annual generation capacity of 56 GWh on the entire national grid of the National Electricity Company of Burkina Faso (Sonabel), i.e. about 5% of the country’s total consumption. For much less: “At the Zagtouli power plant, the average cost is estimated at 35 CFA francs per KWh, whereas Sonabel’s cost stood at 133 CFA francs per KWh in 2016”, explains an executive from the power plant. 

The works have at present been completed. It is now time to conduct tests on this structure built to withstand 120 km/h winds. The power plant is made up of a total of 129,600 modules or “panels”. Each panel has a unit capacity of 260 W. “Once these panels have started capturing energy from the sun, the transformation phase begins. Direct current comes out of these panels, which we need to transform into 420 V alternating current”. Then, to inject this current into the national grid, it is necessary to increase this voltage from 420 to 33,600 V. 

This is all managed from the solar station. It handles the monitoring of the performance of the parameters of the power plant. “This is where we select the capacity which we need to put on the grid, also depending on weather conditions and what the power plant can generate.” All that needs to be done now is open the valves to light up Burkina Faso. 
 

The faces of Zagtouli
Several hundred people have worked on the Zagtouli power plant. Women, men, engineers, technicians, workers: they are all essential to the success of the project. 

Bérenger Dabiré never imagined he would work on this kind of site. At 27, this biology graduate is the power plant’s Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) supervisor. One thing which never leaves him is his love for the environment. “During my training at the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso, I was moved by these climate and renewable energies issues.” One day, he saw an advert on Internet for a job at the power plant site. He applied and was hired. It was in early 2016. 

 

Burkina Faso, Zagtouli, Bérenger, Guebo
© Israël Guébo / AFD

 

Over a year later, Bérenger Dabiré has no regrets. On the contrary: “I benefited from mentoring in the field and with this job, I earn a good living and provide for my family”, smiles the young man. Bérenger has workers under his responsibility. He must convince them to take health and environmental safety issues into account. “It’s not easy to explain to someone who has worked on sites for 20 years with no shoes on that he has to wear them.” 

But the supervisor is patient and pedagogical. “I’ve done a lot of awareness-raising. For example, I tell them that if they don’t wear shoes, they can injure themselves and won’t be able to work any more”. There is no better argument: “They ended up getting used to it and this has allowed us to avoid accidents”, he is pleased to say. Bérenger now dreams of doing a Master’s in QSE (Quality, Safety and Environment) and applying for a more important job. “The experience I’ve gained at the power plant will contribute a lot to this!

Georgette Koné, the “doctor”

31 January 2017. Georgette has only just finished her studies. This state-registered nurse does not wait for the postings and directly applies to manage the infirmary of the Zagtouli power plant. With a white coat and a permanent smile, this mother’s days are almost all the same: “I work under the supervision of a doctor who comes once a month. My role is to provide care for all the staff on the site of the Zagtouli power plant. It generally involves injuries, gastroenteritis and malaria.” 

 

Burkina Faso, docteure, guebo
© Israël Guébo / AFD

 

She examines, prescribes medication and follows up her patients. “In general, I ask them to come back and see me. But they don’t come back any more when they start feeling better”, laughs the young woman. Every day, 4, 6 or up to 15 people go to her infirmary, a converted container which has a consultation bed and a hospitalization room. 

Georgette Koné’s work also concerns prevention: “We organize a lot of awareness-raising campaigns on AIDS and meningitis”, she points out. At the end of the day, Georgette carefully puts her coat away in a cupboard. Like everyone who makes Zagtouli, she is proud to take part in Burkina Faso’s green revolution.  
 

And tomorrow? 

An extension is already planned at the Zagtouli solar power plant in order to increase its production and meet the strong demand. It will increase the generation capacity by 17 MW, in addition to the current capacity of 33 MW. 

According to Daniel Sermé, Director of Studies, Planning and Equipment at Sonabel, it will be possible to connect some 6 million people in Burkina Faso to the electricity grid by 2020, in particular thanks to the interconnections and generation capacity of new solar power plants. Indeed, after Zagtouli, Burkina Faso firmly intends to build five new solar power plants.