And there was light! | Enabel - Belgian Development Agency

And there was light!

In Mozambique, innovative geospatial technologies serve electrification.

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Like 630 other young talents, Antoine De Clippele had his first professional experience abroad thanks to Enabel's Junior Programme. An electrifying experience, as he explains himself.

What does the Renewable Energy for Rural Development Phase 2 (RERD2) programme consist of? What role did you play in it?

The RERD2 programme is a partnership of Enabel and FUNAE, Mozambique's National Energy Fund. It aims to improve access to energy in rural areas and thus contribute to the social and economic development of these regions. One of the objectives is to build local mini-grids* powered by small solar or hydroelectric power plants in rural areas that are too far away from the electricity grid.

In this context, the first step is to identify agglomerations that are too far from the national electricity grid to hope for a connection in the next few years, and whose population density is sufficient for the creation of a mini-grid to have as great an impact as possible. Access to energy must also enable the local population to develop new economic activities.

Yet, like many other sub-Saharan countries, Mozambique faces a problem of data availability. For example, information on where the local population lives or where the grid reaches does not exist or is not readily available due to poor coordination in the energy sector. Identifying potential sites for off-grid electrification therefore requires intensive work, both on the ground and at the central level. It is an expensive, slow, and error-prone method. And that's where we came in!
The first step in this process is to identify settlements

Enabel proposed a solution that uses innovative geospatial technologies (GIS). What is it about and what was your role?

The idea was to integrate and cross-reference data from different sources in order to pre-select the most promising agglomerations, which makes it possible to prioritise the work of field teams. First, the Geographical Information System (GIS) allows you to select promising sites. On this basis, teams can conduct a telephone survey by calling local officials, and fine-tuning the selection. Only then do field teams go to the site to confirm the potential of each site.

To compensate for incomplete or outdated data on the population or the power grid, we had to look for alternatives. For population data, there are several open source initiatives that are freely accessible on the net. Offered by, among others, the United Nations, Facebook and GRID3, they produce population estimates based on available censuses, satellite images, and statistical models...

For the grid, we used a model called Gridfinder. It determines the most likely location of power lines based on night lights and population data. Second, we cross-referenced our work with existing data and our knowledge of the field. Thanks to strong collaboration with Electricity of Mozambique (EDM) we were able to add the outline of future power lines. After this painstaking work, we were able to identify the most promising agglomerations.

Finally, it remained to verify the names of these villages, which is also no small matter. Some villages do not have a name on the maps; others have several names that differ according to the sources. All these data were assembled thanks to open source software like QGIS, one of the most common software. The end result is far from perfectly accurate, but it provides a starting point for determining priority villages for the construction of mini-networks.
In Mozambique, many settlements are very isolated and therefore not connected to the electricity grid © Isabel Corthier
Have you had any training in this area?

I am a bio-engineer. I am not a geographer. I already had some basics in the use of this kind of tools, but I learned a lot on the spot. Everything can be learned. Our goal was to ensure that what we developed could be learned and reused. It is far from insurmountable. Much of my work on the ground was about training others in these techniques, in order to build local capacity in this area.

Where is the project standing now?

My contract ended a few months ago. The village identification part was completed. The teams had begun to contact the companies that will be carrying out the necessary studies and the installation of these mini-electric grids. In addition, there are new capacity development initiatives at FUNAE. For example, our project was complemented by a new component to work on solar-powered irrigation projects. The work is far from over.

And how do you look back at your engagement with Enabel?

I am very positive about it. I learned a lot, both professionally and personally. It is not always easy to work with partners who each have their own vision. But, in my case, we were literally integrated into the FUNAE and Ministry of Energy (MIREME) teams. That offered real opportunities. This provided a good understanding of the issues, context and needs of all. And we developed great relationships! I must say that I was quite lucky with my colleagues. Of course, it's always a little frustrating to leave a project before it is completed. But I'm glad I was able to do my share. For me, it's clearly a great experience that was worth it!
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* A mini-grid is a set of small-scale electricity generators and possibly energy storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a small, localised group of customers and operates independently from the national transmission grid
Antoine De Clippele provides training in the use of GIS to the national energy fund of Mozambique

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