Ines Nana, 27, is a young engineer who specialises in renewable energy and Bernadin Ouedraogo, 40, is an emergency doctor in Zagtouli, Burkina Faso. They are both excited by the capacity of solar energy to improve Burkinabés’ quality of life and contribute to ending poverty.
The EU has supported a project in Burkina Faso to build the largest solar power plant in West Africa. It has created 400 jobs and provides electricity to more than 660,000 people.
Now a new EU initiative called the External Investment Plan will allow us to support many more citizens like Ines and Bernadin, in Africa and in countries neighbouring the EU.
"Access to electricity is at the core of development"
Only about one in five people in Burkina Faso have access to electricity, one of the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. In rural areas this situation is even worse, when the electrification rate can be as low as three percent.
According to Bernadin, who is also president of a youth organisation in Zagtouli, “access to electricity is at the core of development, for instance, in education. Without electricity we are forced to use dangerous and toxic kerosene lamps to study in the dark.” Health is an important topic for Bernadin, an emergency doctor. “Years ago, while conducting research on mortality indicators in the country, I realised we have really precarious conditions at childbirth. How unsafe it is to deliver when you only have torches to illuminate the room!”
Bernadin Ouedraogo working in Zagtouli
To address this, Burkina Faso is working hard to generate much more green energy. This is in line with its UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) commitments.
In Bernadin’s words, “We've been enlightened! The sun has always been there but now we have opened our eyes and learned how to exploit this valuable natural resource to benefit higher living standards for the community.”
Funding the largest solar power plant in West Africa to empower young people
The cost for this green energy revolution is still too high for Burkina Faso to carry alone. The EU has therefore backed a project In Zagtouli to build the largest solar power plant in West Africa. The EU invested €25 million in almost 130,000 solar panels on an area equivalent to 84 football fields. This plant saves 26,000 tonnes in CO2 emissions per year and provides electricity to more than 660,000 people.
The construction of this plant employed 400 people. Ines is one of the young Burkinabe working there as an engineer. “I saw that the company operating the plant, CEGELEC, was searching for an engineer in Zagtouli only six months after I finished my college studies,” Ines says proudly. “All but one of my colleagues working at the plant are Burkinabés. That means that many young people from the region have found a job there.”
The EU is using public money to:
-cover a part of the project’s costs, combining EU grants with loans and other kinds of financing from development banks and private investors (a process known as ‘blending’)
-raise more investment than might otherwise have been possible
The EU has successfully used this model for over ten years. Now the EU External Investment Plan will invest in many projects like this one.
Ines believes this investment will help other young people “to know there is a better future for you and your family if you are willing to study and work hard to achieve your goals.” Bernadin agrees: “The most important contribution of this project has been to motivate our young people. It is common to see technicians and engineers in town now, and young people have a good example to follow.”
EU contribution to construct the largest solar power plant in West Africa
Total investment to generate green energy in Burkina Faso
tonnes of CO2 emissions prevented per year by the power plant
Opening the renewable energy sector for economic growth
This project enabled by the EU empowers young people to be financially independent. “I am the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, they all work, and I became an economic burden for them,” says Ines. “Now I can cover my daily expenses and even support my family. In fact, I contribute to my cousins’ education fees and I send money to my mother who lives in another city in Burkina Faso.”
A stable renewable energy supply means more security for local businesses as well. “There are new shops in town. Before it was risky to run a business: without lighting, there were delinquents stealing and destroying your shop. Now they have nowhere to hide!” says Bernadin. These win-win solutions will get a further boost under the EU’s External Investment Plan, as new investment guarantees will help attract more public and private investment to Western Africa.
Many young people from the region have found a job at the Solar Power Plant in Zagtouli.
“Since we’ve had electricity, the youth organisation in Zagtouli has been organising evening trainings for professionals. Could you imagine doing this without light?” Bernadin adds. He even bought a television at home: “The cost of electricity decreased and now I can follow my favourite football team on TV and my four children can watch their favourite cartoons. For me, this is equal opportunities!” Bernadin jokes.