Global TechWoman: Assiatu Jalloh

Sierra Leone’s Assiatu Jalloh is one of 90 people selected to take part in TechWomen 2016, which will be held in the United States this September.

TechWomen is a U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs initiative. It was first announced on April 28, 2010, during President Obama’s Entrepreneurship Summit.

In June 2011, TechWomen launched with 37 participants from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories. In 2012, the program expanded to include women from Tunisia and Yemen. In 2013, the cohort doubled in size with the addition of women from Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Assiatu is passionate about environmental protection, climate change mitigation, and she is pursuing a career in renewable energy development. Below are excerpts from an interview with Sewa News. 

Sierra Leone has abundant sun energy supply with an average of 5 peak sun hours per day and the lowest of 3.79 in August, according to a meteorological survey by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agency of the United States. 

Even though Sierra Leone has six months in the calendar year that is known for wet weather, from the NASA figures, we still have (a lot of) sunshine supply during wet weather. 

Different regions experience different challenges in Sierra Leone. They range from cultural and traditional practices and beliefs to information on renewables, political will, gender involvement, and technical knowledge/skills for development, installation, and maintenance. 

But the most significant challenge/roadblock is the cost involved. Whether it's in developing hydropower, the wind, bioenergy plants, or installation of solar photovoltaic for both private and public institutions and residence.

Sierra Leone has a high potential for renewables and its development. 

We have close to 129 Pico (small scale), micro and macro hydropower falls. Also, with an average of 5 peak sun hours, solar PVs, and solar thermal systems stand on a good footing. 

Even though we have been facing deforestation from bio energy harnessing by locals, we have a vast landscape that will compete less with agro-food production for bio energy production in the form of biogas, biofuel, and biomass. Wind speed is about 3m/s to 5m/s; there are wind vanes that will produce energy from such speed. Recently, the government launched an energy revolution that seeks to electrify rural areas and suburbs via renewable sources.

One critical challenge is the initial capital cost to undertake huge renewable development projects. Because of a crisis in finance and budget allocation, the biggest hydro potential-Bumbuna Phase II is yet to be developed. Yet the government has contracted a 5 megawatts solar PVs on-grid installation to be developed in Bo, south of the country, to Solar Era SL Limited.

The company operates privately with a public-private partnership agreement signed with the government of Sierra Leone.

We have an energy policy, which addresses renewables in terms of tax waivers, network meter incentives, etcetera. Non-governmental organizations give skills training to people, and support installation of solar PVs in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and agricultural warehouses.

The government has a great chance to position its findings and channel current and potential carbon-related hazards during the June 28-30 Africa Carbon Forum

Also, Sierra Leone will be opportune to discuss similar challenges with other African countries and proffer possible solutions.

Our overall carbon emission is very low as compared to other industrialized countries, yet we face the reality of climate change emergencies because we live in a global village. Notwithstanding, the government should partner with local NGOs and organisations to research on related health and environmental hazards of carbon emission.

To be candid, we have a lot to benefit if the information is well disseminated. The carbon credits target countries that are affected by industrial waste. 

Recently, Sierra Leone has been seeing seaweeds along its beaches. These are all pointing to the fact that we are affected by a rise in temperatures in the sea and these are secondary effects of carbon emission. Yet if we can’t present proposals we will not attract funding.

In the present state of affairs, we advocate that renewables complement conventional energy sources because of the on-going research and development in renewables.

For fast reliable and sustainable development, Africans should first think renewables. Especially for our present traditional values and knowledge, renewables are the pivot to our development.

Socio-economic and environmental assessments clearly justify that renewable energy sources contribute to health, education, small and medium enterprises and even exposure to innovation and innovative.

I see an African future that is “carbon-emissive” free, that accommodates every species in an eco-tolerant and “green” economy.
The world has a vast knowledge of fossil fuel and its equipment, considering how much emphasis was placed on COP-21--70 percent to 100 percent renewable electrification in European countries like Norway, Switzerland, and widespread campaigns for environment protection. Even Britain and North and South America have a significant increase in renewable development because of policies and cost incentives. However, renewables experienced a steep political landscape and have few battles to be won.

The irony of renewables sources is that it is abundant per population in the region (Africa) that lacks the technology and skills to develop it. 

We have many renewable projects in Africa that either by virtue of initial development or maintenance crisis cannot reach their stated duration and have failed completely.

Yet it is not only common with renewables, Nigeria, which is the largest African oil-producing country, cannot electrify and supply energy to every household.

The nexus between energy poverty and energy development is tied to corruption and lack of monitoring and evaluation.

Addax Bioenergy SL Limited is a typical example of mismanagement; lack of interest from the government to monitors renewable energy projects as long as it does not yield fast dividend, and policies that are strong and addresses all factors. 

It is important for widespread knowledge of renewables in Sierra Leone so people will have an opportunity to know new energy technology and its benefits rather than being limited to a conventional energy source.

Another importance is its positive impact on gender parity. Solar energy, which is the most common RE in Sierra Leone, has massive benefits on women empowerment. Girls and women spend most of their time fetching water and preparing for food in traditional homes. But solar energy electrified pumps, solar cookers; solar water heater can bridge the gender empowerment gap.

We have massive renewable energy development in Sierra Leone. Currently, electricians are being trained for solar PVs installations.

The recent development in Solar PVs installation will create direct and indirect jobs in the market. Also, phone charging, motivation to study at night, discos, cinemas and other businesses have emerged because of Solar PV rural installation. To underscore the success of renewable, the Solar PV streetlights in villages are demarcated to celebrate special occasions or festivals.

Assiatu is a research-teaching assistant in the mechanical and maintenance engineering department, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone. She is the only female educator of her department and one of the two females of her faculty. 

She is also a master’s degree candidate enrolled in the Energy Studies program at Fourah Bay College. She is a graduate of Fourah Bay College, with honours in Mechanical and Maintenance Engineering. 

Assiatu has worked for renewable companies such as Solar Era SL Limited and Addax Bioenergy SL Limited. 

She is the founder, chief executive and secretary of Women Inspired to Learn and Lead-WILL. This is an all-female not-for-profit organisation that seeks to address women empowerment and gender parity issues through politics, environment protection and education. Also, she has a business that deals in logistics supply, construction, and engineering consultancy. 

Assiatu was raised in an underprivileged and environmentally-challenged background, but she believes that through education and freedom every woman will attain her full potential. Her interest in renewable energy was developed and is mentored by Dr. Kelleh Gbawuru-Mansaray, the head of the Mechanical and Maintenance Engineering Department at Fourah Bay College. 


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