How physics teacher turned his frustration into a rewarding venture that serves entire country
With his locally-produced solar units, Julius Shenga Tcheshie is solving the electricity challenge faced by over half his country's population.
By Njdozeka Danhatu, bird story agency
As Julius Shegna Tcheshie tells it, the typical experience of a power user in the town of Nwa, where he spent five years as a physics teacher, is one of frustration.
"It is 7.30 pm and I'm about to watch the evening news, but I'm out of fuel. By the time I come back from buying fuel and refilling the generator, the prime-time news is over.
This is one of many frustrations I face. The generator has, in times past, blown up all my electrical appliances in the house. Additionally, it produces a lot of noise and smells that irritate my eyes, nose and lungs.
Because there is no electricity in Nwa, my next best option is a kerosene bush lamp, which is even more problematic than a diesel generator."
These are some of the challenges Tcheshie faced almost daily during his five years as a teacher living in Nwa, in the North West Region of Cameroon. After being transferred to the city of Bamenda, he decided it was time to solve the country's power problems once and for all.
"Around the time I and others faced lighting challenges in Nwa, renewable energy discussions had started on many platforms. That stirred something in me," he said.
Today, Tcheshie's solar generator business is helping solve electricity problems in Cameroon while simultaneously tackling environmental pollution.
"I began investing all my competencies and finances into the research of solar energy. After that, I designed a prototype and sold a few of those. I ploughed back the money I received into more research and then put the fully-functional product on the market," he explained.
Tcheshie's solution includes a solar panel, a battery and an inverter. With some of his teacher friends, he co-founded ORES; an NGO created to develop the rural world through solar energy.
"Africa is blessed with the sun," said the 54-year-old. "We believe with solar, the most remote village can have lights, tv, internet, irrigate their farms, among other uses."
Tcheshie has produced more than five versions of his solar system, now used in homes across seven regions of Cameroon.
One of his designs, the Combo solar generator, can power schools, churches and health centres, according to Tcheshie. It is manoeuvred on wheels and can connect with up to 15 solar panels of 100w each.
The Combo generator is also equipped with a "bad weather" switch to keep the system delivering minimum performance instead of shutting down entirely during poor weather when the system receives little direct sunlight.
The systems are also easy to install.
"We earlier faced a problem having to go to the bushes to install solar systems. In one particular incident, Amba boys (separatist fighters in Cameroon) took all the money the client had for installation. So we told ourselves, why not design systems that are easy to install by anybody and (are) user-friendly?" he explained.
Barely half of Cameroon's population has access to electricity, and those that do are concentrated in urban areas. The government says over 63 per cent of local communities do not have access to electricity.
According to the country's ministry of water and energy, of 13,104 communities, 9,000 lack electricity and FCFA 874 billion (over USD 1 billion) is needed to fill the gap.
But Tcheshie is not waiting on the government to power homes. He hopes to create a change in local communities with his solar generators. The physic teacher has trained many Cameroonian youths, and now polytechnics and other engineering schools in Cameroon are now building on his work.
"More and more people see our solar generators performing well. They believe the MADE IN CAMEROON brand is growing," he said.
"Our clients are beginning to feel they are in good hands because we are just in the neighbourhood. We are not some remote manufacturers in far-off China," added Tcheshie.
But Tchesie's greatest joy is that the people back in Nwa are also benefiting from his project. He is currently developing other home and business appliances that can be powered with solar energy.
bird story agency