Electricity from lightning to electric eels has been watched, experienced and studied since antiquity. Progress in understanding this natural phenomenon was slow coming until 17th and 18th centuries. Practical applications for electricity took longer still with another century nearly passing before it became a tool. In the late 19th century, engineers finally put electricity to use and the rapid expansion in electrical technology began, transforming not only industry but society and our daily lives. It was the driving force for the Second Industrial Revolution. Electrical power is now the backbone of modern industrial society.
Yet, much of the planet remains without this vital resource. Africa is a classic example of a continent that boasts brilliantly lit cities and, at the same time, has darkened villages and landscapes devoid of light at night. One source states that Africa “…has 13 percent of the world’s population, but 48 percent of the share of the global population without access to electricity.”
With global technological advances, that scene is changing even if it seems at a turtle’s pace. From zinc-air batteries to specialized electric cars, the sparky evolution is flickering its way into the darkest corners of the continent.
The rechargeable zinc-air batteries, a fairly recent innovation, present hope that it may lead to the possibility of providing electricity to previously energy-starved regions of the globe. Zinc–air batteries and zinc–air fuel cells are powered by oxidizing zinc with oxygen from the air. These batteries have high energy densities, meaning that they have a high ratio of potential chemical energy output to density. They are relatively inexpensive to produce because they are made with commonly found materials. The major disadvantage at this point is the difficulty in recharging them. But a team at the University of Sydney, among others, is addressing this problem. They have created new catalysts that might mean that rechargeable zinc-air batteries have the potential to compete with lithium-ion batteries in mobile devices.
Electric vehicles (EV), for the most part, have been less than successful, especially in much of Africa for a variety of reasons; chief among them are cost, rough terrains and the short distances that EVs can travel between charges. Although EV range is constantly improving, it’s still one of the main issues for consumers since a full charge for most EVs means a limited range of 60 to 100 miles, with a few going further, even doubling that 100-mile mark.
Other issues include the time it takes to fully charge an EV (up to 8 to 12 hours using a regular household plug), and the amount of electricity consumed, which can amount to more than one home’s combined energy consumption for appliances, computers, lights, air conditioner and more. And that is just one house. Image the potential stress on local and national power grids if EVs become common place.
Still, a few are found currently in use such as Green Safaris’ eLandy, Zambia’s first ‘electronic Landrover’. One of the benefits of this vehicle is its silent engine operation, allowing you to clearly experience the sounds as well as the sights.
An electric car prototype said to be built for Africa’s rural roads by the Technical University of Munich was unveiled at the end of last year. The aCar is crafted to be “tough and flexible enough to survive harsh conditions” of Africa’s road system. The four-wheel drive design is built for dirt roads and off-roading. It, too, suffers from the short-range issue, with about 50 miles on a charge.
Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp took a smaller electrical bite with its E-Bike Bush Ride, the first in Olderkesi Conservancy in the Masai Mara. In addition to providing a delightful riding experience using both foot power and an electric motor, the bikes reduce the camp’s overall carbon emission.
Of course, research continues into improving electric vehicles as well as adding new and better green technologies to the menu, including solar ad wind. In addition to their eLandy, Green Safaris also has a solar boat. Many camps throughout Africa utilize solar for a variety of applications from growing organic gardens to powering lights.
The myriad of issues that arise from all sources of power generation, and the supply and demand pressures will not be resolved easily as they are complex and present different challenges for each country. We have come far in lighting the night but as demand continues to grow, we will need still more innovative, sustainable methods and technologies to meet those demands.
The goal of this website is two-fold: First, to provide travelers and travel advisors with easily accessible information and country rankings in terms of basic sustainability; and second, to serve as a filter or guide to help travelers who favor sustainable journeys look at possible destinations. This can serve as the first step in the planning process to select the ideal destination.