Over the last two years power outages in Eritrea have been very erratic, thus adversely affecting the operations of the UN system in Eritrea. Though some UN agencies own standby generators, this has not helped to alleviate the problem. The reason is that the UN system has very limited access to diesel, which is rationed in very small quantity to the UN agencies and is not sufficient to keep their generators fully operational for even two to three weeks. This situation threatened the business continuity plan and security system of the entire UN system in Eritrea.
Realizing the seriousness of the problem, the UNCT through its Security Management Team began having series of meetings commencing from as early 2011 to find a sustainable back-up solution to the acute situation. It was at these meetings the strong need for going green emerged, with a strong commitment to full solar power installation on the compound of the UN system, where the Offices of UNDP, UNFPA, UNOCHA, UNDSS, UNRCO, and UNAIDS are present.
The idea of going green with solar power technology was communicated by the UNDP Resident Representative with the RBA Senior Management Team and the Bureau of Management (BOM) and they warmly and who wholeheartedly embraced and supported the UNDP Eritrea Country Office in its drive to go green, in line with the greening the UN.
Asmara the capital city for Eritrea is in the horn of Africa and enjoys relatively good sunshine throughout the year. This perfect condition provided the UN System the right opportunity to go green with solar energy technology. The Country Office (CO) has just installed a solar system composed of 104 solar modules, each providing 145 watts and totaling close to 15.5 kilowatts of power. This power will serve the Offices of all the UN agencies in the compound. The capacity of the battery bank is 120KWH and the system can run for 8 hours per day. The system was procured at the cost of $ 113,000 through contribution by the UN Agencies operating in the same complex.
"Sustainability is important at the UN. We are increasingly reviewing how we do business and we are putting a strong emphasis on reducing environmental impact in our activities. The installation of this solar system will not only assist us in improving our efficiency and cut on costs but also allow us to have zero CO2 emissions, which is beneficial to the environment." commented Christine N. Umutoni, the UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident / Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea. She also added that the new system has improved work life balence and it is critical to the business continuity plan. This in addition to the Country Office being able to sufficiently generate its own power. She also expressed gratitude to the RBA Senior Management Team and BOM who were very supportive and urged the CO to move on with the idea of greening the Office and entire UN compound.
According to Araia Kidane, the UN common services Manager for Eritrea, who coordinated the implantation of the solar project, the frequent power outages were becoming a challenge. “Many of our officers had to find a way of working when there was no power. This sometimes meant that they had to stay late into the night or they would come to work during the weekend to take advantage of the grid power supply. Furthermore, the frequent power outages also created a security risk. Due to lack of power, the Country Office quite frankly lost its connection to the VSAT, the 24/7 radio room operations and sometimes even the mobile telecommunications system. This was a serious operational and security risk, which needed to be urgently addressed by the UN system in Eritrea”.
“We therefore created a committee to come up with an alternative and efficient energy solutions that would enable us deliver our mandate with efficiency. The committee narrowed down to an integrated solar system.”
The UN complex hosts a number of UN agencies including UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNOCHA, UNDSS and the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and the design of the solar system was sufficient to cover requirements for 50 members of staff working for all these agencies in the common premises. To achieve this, these UN agencies have instituted changes on the equipment. All the 50 employees working at the complex are required to work with laptops, which are more efficient in comparison to desktop computers. For printing, photocopying and scanning, small sized and low power consumers were identified and networked to the solar system. Heavy energy consumers like bulk printers and photocopies were not connected to the power grid and they operate only when there is power from the main grid supply. In addition, employees are only requested to print when it is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, all individual printers have been phased out. The new laptop rule will further enable staff members to improve on their work life balance where they can work from home. The office is also improving its lighting system to install LED lights which are compatible with the new solar system.
It will take close to two years for the office to recover the initial cost of solar. At the moment, the main utility power grid is designed to be used as a backup to the solar power supply. It is also estimated that the solar system will last for six years without any problem. However, to ensure that this is achieved, the office has contracted a local company that checks and maintains the system on a long-term contract basis. The office has a 50 KVA generator but cannot rely on it due to lack of diesel. This is because fuel shortage is quite common in Eritrea and the office does not have bulk storage facilities for diesel.
But in Eritrea UNDP and other UN agencies are going beyond utilizing benefits of photovoltaic for office operations and enabling staff to benefit from the new technology as well: The UN Country Team Eritrea has designed an innovative mechanism where staff may use salary advances to purchase PV modules for use in their homes. The UN staff association coordinates procurement, distribution and installation of modules for all interested staff in order to utilize economies of scale. With this, the UN in Eritrea is supporting local staff in reducing energy costs while increasing security and comfort in their private homes.