In January 2019, TSO launched a ground-breaking, renewable-energy project in Burkina Faso, West Africa called the Solar Village of the Future. Together with our partners, TSO fabricated and installed a modular, solar-powered nanogrid (the “Power Hub”) in the village of Pâ, providing affordable and reliable electricity to villagers so they can pursue economic opportunities. The goal of the project is to demonstrate that clean energy delivered by containerized solar generators, combined with solar-friendly, light industrial and retail appliances, can be used as a means to poverty reduction.

The Power Hub consists of a 6.5 kW solar array installed above a 20-foot shipping container. The container is designed for battery storage, office space, and a retail kiosk. There is a shaded communal courtyard in the front for socializing and commerce, and an industrial zone (for agricultural milling) in the back.

TSO’s Power Hub in Pâ Village. January 2019. Retail area (front).

The Power Hub is the world’s first affordable, multi-functional platform that delivers energy to both light industrial appliances (i.e., milling machines) AND retail applications (Wi-Fi hotspot, office services, battery recharge, and café). It is also the world’s first solution to process Shea butter using machines that are 100% driven by solar power. The diverse revenue stream of the retail services helps offset seasonality and variability on the agricultural processing side, creating a viable year-round operation.

Shea Butter Machine (back) and Power Hub Solar Panels (roof)

Sougrinooma women making Shea butter at the Power Hub using solar-powered milling equipment (Jan. 2019)

The Power Hub’s primary client is the Sougrinooma Shea Butter Women’s Cooperative of Pâ Village, which historically has milled its Shea (and some grains) manually. Through automating the most labor-intensive aspects of the Shea butter manufacturing process, the women have already shown a dramatic increase in their productivity.

TSO’s remote monitoring dashboard. Live real-time monitoring and equipment troubleshooting.

Demand for the Power Hub’s milling and other services has been steady. Since the January installation, 1 MWh of energy has been consumed by Sougrinooma at the Power Hub. In addition, members’ incomes and morale are increasing, and the women have more time to devote to family chores and raising children. The Power Hub has proven durable enough to withstand West Africa’s harshest heat (42 degrees Celsius in April) and dust conditions.

While technology is an enabler to achieve broader development goals, the Power Hub’s overarching activity is a capacity-building program focused on entrepreneurship and skill-building for Pâ women and youth (our “Oaks”). Only 4% of Sougrinooma’s members can read or write. Access to skills training and WiFi give Sougrinooma new hope in overcoming difficult economic conditions and improving their quality of life.

Sougrinooma women being trained in shea soap making by Yona Cooperative members. April 2019

TSO is partnering with the University of Ouagadougou and Fondation SEMAFO’s Yona Cooperative to develop new skills for women and youth in Pâ district, with the Power Hub as the economic focal point to apply what they have learned in a real-world environment.

This project has the potential to have far-reaching implications. Ninety-seven percent of rural Burkinabes live off the grid and ninety percent rely on biomass (firewood and charcoal) as their main energy source. Burkina’s government has no immediate plans to extend its electrical grid services throughout the Pâ district. TSO’s model demonstrates that clean energy can be used as a means to poverty-reduction and that it can be replicated in villages across Burkina Faso, and beyond, providing income security and environmental sustainability for future generations of African citizens.

This project was made possible by the generosity of the following Canadian/international donors, partners, and individual donors to The Strongest Oak Foundation: Fig Tree Foundation, Lush Cosmetics Inc., Rotary Club of Calgary (Downtown), ATB Cares, Schneider Electric Foundation, The University of Calgary’s Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development, Solar Milling, Keating Family Fund/Calgary Foundation, Enterprise Holdings Foundation

Our local Burkina Faso, Africa donors, and partners:
L’Association Monde Meilleur, La Source Nouvelle, University of Ouagadougou, and Jules Ouedgraogo (Infolec)