Why we’re turning to solar energy at the UN in Namibia
BY Caroline M Nkuziwalela, Saidu Kamara | August 2, 2017
On Saturday, 25 March 2017, UN Namibia took part in the global Earth Hour movement. We joined millions of people from every corner of the world to show support for climate action. Our participation in this movement proves critical in that, saving electricity today, we establish better energy saving habits which lead to a brighter, better future.
It’s easier said than done though. Did you know that in Namibia, between 40 to 80 percent of energy is imported from South Africa, which is facing shortages and has regular energy cuts? To tackle this, following the United Nations Partnership Framework agreement, we will assist the Government strategically to develop its own energy sources, prioritizing solar energy, for energy security and secure commitment towards a low carbon development pathway.
Turn on the lights, sustainably
What if we told you that the UN House in Windhoek is going to turn into a self-sustaining, energy efficient building? The UN House is comprised of 12 UN agencies, all of whom participate in the conversion to a solar photovoltaic PV system.
A photovoltaic system, or solar power system, is designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics and is being widely scaled as a primary source of renewable energy in many facilities across Africa. Imagine how much energy we could save if the lights at the office automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity. Simple habits can make a difference in the way we use electricity.
For this reason, we launched last week a grid-interactive solar photovoltaic (PV) system at UN House. The facility will make up for a portion of electrical energy consumption and it will also help us save money. As Namibia receives a high amount of sunlight, this move towards renewable energy promotes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ and is in line with the UN’s mission of Greening the Blue.
The recommended system size of 90 kWp will offset 19 percent annual energy use, with a 20 percent reduction in electricity costs annually. That’s a lot! The expected internal rate of return when this project is cash financed is 21.5 percent. This means we expect to break-even after five years. The solar panel system is not a backup solution but rather an energy subsidy system. When the solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, the difference is fed back into the national electric grid, increasing the availability of power distribution across the city of Windhoek.
Investing in Namibia’s Renewable Energy Plans
Due to poor insulation, inefficient lights, appliances, and heating and cooling equipment, we pay more for energy costs than we should. This is money we could save by investing in energy efficiency. In partnership with the Namibia Energy Institute, we plan to update the existing energy audit for the UN. We will also carry out a cost-benefit analysis to improve increasing energy efficiency by switching to energy-saving devices. Moreover, by installing a solar energy system, we can focus on renewable energy, particularly solar, without having to increase the price of our electricity.
With the help of renewable energy experts, we are supporting the government of the Republic of Namibia on a large-scale feasibility plan for Namibia’s first concentrated power plant. A concentrated power plant uses mirrors to focus the sun's light energy and convert it into heat to create steam to drive a turbine that generates electrical power.
In addition, we are also researching how to transfer this technology to the country, i.e. exploring the potential for manufacturing solar panels locally, PV parts/equipment, and building capacities and skills for the renewable energies industry. Given the size of the sector in Namibia, we also supported a project tasked with experimenting different approaches to generating bio-energy through the use of agricultural waste. Our main goal is to learn from the previous work and engage the Namibia Energy Institute in technical advisory and support capacity.
We’re excited about the possibilities that solar energy can bring to our work and Namibia. We will keep you posted on our journey there!
Using Machine Learning to Accelerate Sustainable Development Solutions in Uganda
September 14, 2017
A year and a half after it was prototyped, the radio content analysis tool developed by Pulse Lab Kampala and partners has become fully operational. The findings and lessons learned during the process were compiled in a report entitled: “Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda - Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action.”
The recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Global Summit has brought together partners to define a roadmap for governments, industry, academia, media, and civil society to develop AI in a safe, responsible and ethical manner benefiting all segments of society. At the summit, the radio content analysis tool was showcased as one of the applications of AI currently in use at the UN.
The tool was designed to leverage public radio content as a source of information to inform on issues relevant to sustainable development. The most complex part in the development of the prototype is capturing the transcription of spoken words into written text. This technology, called speech recognition, is used in applications ranging from simple voice dialing (e.g. "Call home") to fully automatic speech-to-text processing where every word is being converted into text (e.g. dictation to a document or email).
The world’s largest IT companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and IBM, invest significant resources in speech recognition for their products. There are also companies that specialise in speech recognition as Nuance Communications (Apple’s supplier) or HTK. This type of companies offer automatic speech-to-text dictation in about 50 languages, but languages and dialects from the African continent are not available among them.
The radio content analysis tool was developed as part of a project conducted by Pulse Lab Kampala in collaboration with the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The tool works by converting public discussions that take place on radio in various African languages into text. Once converted, the text can be searched for topics of interest. The tool is now fully functional in the Northern and Central regions of Uganda and available for three languages: Luganda, Acholi and English (as spoken in the country).
The report outlines the methodology and processes of the radio content analysis tool, distills the technology behind its creation and presents the lessons learned along the way. It also details the results of several pilot studies that were conducted together with partners from the Government, UN agencies and academia to understand the validity and value of unfiltered public radio discussions for development.
The hope is that the processes and lessons detailed in the report can serve as examples and inspiration for using radio talk and data analytics to inform decision-making processes in development and humanitarian scenarios, in contexts where other sources of data may be missing or insufficient.
Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda from Global Pulse
Uganda’s population is the youngest in the world, with 77% of its population being under 30 years of age. The country is now gaining international recognition for the development of Artificial Intelligence products by its youth.Listen to insights from the young Ugandans working at Pulse Lab Kampala on the development of the radio content analysis tool.
Cross-posted from the United Nations Global Pulse Blog.