When renewable energy is built locally

According to Klaus Haegler, the founder of SOFIs WORLD, the NGO offers holistic concepts related to global, economic and environmental contexts with a strong regional focus. According to him, the acronym – SFOFI – stands for Social Finance.

FairPlanet spoke with Haegler about SOFI’s WORLD, recent developments and plans for the future.

FairPlanet: Tell us about the kind of work SOFI’s WORLD does.

Klaus Haegler: SOFIs WORLD is a foundation that focuses mainly on renewable energy in East Africa – mainly in the South Coast province of Kenya, but we have also had contacts with projects in Uganda and Tanzania.

We provide regenerative energies in a local setting. It is mainly biogas, but also solar water heaters, with systems that we developed ourselves in 2015 from materials that are available regionally and that are deliberately designed low-tech so that any part that breaks can be repaired with regional spare parts.

So the devices you use to generate energy are locally built?

Yes. For example, solar collectors with copper hoses, absorbers, glass plates with a fixed frame, connected to a tank that we install ourselves, which is insulated and fitted with a different protective cover, but also the complete substructure. And we get all the material from Kenya.

SOFI’s WORLD’s journey

What is SOFI’s WORLD history? When did the project start?

I have a godchild in Ethiopia and during a visit there I was impressed by the good work the aid organization Plan International is doing. When I returned, I struck up a conversation with a friend, Quirin Walter, who had just returned from volunteering in Kenya. He told me he had a whole project lined up but no one to fund it. So we decided that I would take care of the money and he would take care of the project.

In 2010 I founded the SOFIs WORLD foundation and in 2011 we built the first biogas installations in Kenya as demonstration installations. We invited the farmers to various information meetings that we held on site and convinced them of our concept. After a short time, we were able to form partnerships with two larger national, semi-government organizations – one funded from the Netherlands, the other from Denmark – who took care of almost half the cost per biogas plant, so that the farmers could actually buy a complete biogas installation for only 400-500 euros.

In the first three years of production we were able to install 280 systems, we now have about 600 systems. After the project was completed, we were able to build an additional 320 systems over the next eight years.

For the time being, we are no longer involved because there are now well-trained local specialists who can conclude the contracts themselves and carry out the construction projects themselves. We currently have 20 employees ourselves, but this number varies greatly depending on the number of orders we have taken.

“We get all materials from Kenya”

How did you initially get in touch with the local Kenyan farmers?

Quirin Walter has organized this very successfully. We invited the people in the villages for tea and sweets and presented our ideas in groups of 30-40 people. It went so well that we have already received a few orders at these events.

Why is biogas particularly suitable in Kenya?

Simply put, we make gold from feces. Biogas is mainly produced from cow dung, which not only gives you free biogas, but also is an excellent fertilizer. You can even mix it with concentrates and feed it back to the cows as feed because it contains so much protein.

And biogas is an excellent fuel. Firewood is still used in many huts in Kenya. Every year around four million people worldwide die from smoke inhalation. Biogas is better there because it burns with almost no pollutants.

How did SOFIs WORLD grow from there?

In 2015 we developed a solar water heater together with German students and environmental engineers and in 2016 we started the IRUWA project. IRUWA means sun in the local language. Together with the German Ministry for Development Aid, we bought a piece of land in the provincial capital of Wundanyi, built a workshop, trained people and have been building solar water heaters there ever since.

In addition, we opened our own marketing agency in 2018. And behind it we have now built a demonstration house where our systems are presented to the public. Here we invite people who are interested in our systems to our information meetings. We are currently presenting our new Sistema plastic biogas installation there, which is a lot cheaper than the previous fixed dome installation.

Since 2018 we also have photovoltaic systems and solar pumps in our repertoire. Such systems are of particular interest to farmers who need to use ground or river water. The small solar pump systems start with around €300, but we also succeed in pumping groundwater from a depth of up to 200 meters. There is, of course, a danger that the large farmer who can afford such a pump will at some point suck up the water from the neighboring small farmers, who can only go 50 meters down with their pump.

With the solar pumps, we have also introduced systems for drip irrigation in the fields, a very economical form of irrigation that prevents much of the water from evaporating before it reaches the ground.

Community participation

Another important aspect of your job seems to be the vocational training of the local population.

That’s correct. We inform the population in meetings, give lectures in schools and universities and of course we train people to manufacture and install our systems. We currently offer a two-year internship that covers all the manual activities we need for the construction of our factory, such as welding, carpentry, plumbing, electrical installation work, etc. We also work with a local vocational school, some of which are graduates started working in our workshop.

“We also have photovoltaic systems and solar pumps in our repertoire”

How is SOFIs WORLD funded?

I do fundraising in Germany. It started relatively small, we had earned about 15,000 to 30,000 euros per year. Then in 2016 there was a major project in collaboration with BMZ, the German Ministry of Development, which had a budget of 66,000 euros, of which 50,000 euros was provided directly by BMZ.

At the moment we have an annual donation volume of about 30,000 to 40,000 euros.

How has the interaction with the Kenyan authorities been?

It went well, but to no avail. In fact, corruption is a very serious problem in Kenya. It could be a very rich country that could sustain its population of over 50 million even in times of drought.

But corruption in the country is rife and many communities are vulnerable to the impending climate catastrophe. The periods of drought that normally last about 2 months in East Africa now last four months. There is no more time to ripen the maize, the staple food; at best you can still feed it to the cows, which would otherwise die of thirst in the pasture.

What’s next for SOFI’s WORLD?

Our customers are no longer just farmers, but also organisations. Only recently did we receive an order from a craft academy for the largest plastic biogas plant we have ever installed. It contains about 30 cubic meters. This is a major project that we started with a Rotary club, which will last more than two years and will cost 60,000 euros.

The aim is to completely convert the Tati Academy craftsman training center to CO2-neutral energy sources. Solar boilers are installed for this, many solar PV systems and this large biogas installation. There is also a chicken breeding station with photovoltaic systems and a borehole pump. With photovoltaics we also become independent from the Kenyan electricity grid, which is sensitive to power cuts.

And we’re currently developing solar-powered drying systems that allow people to dry fruit to eat or sell later.

‘We are trying to become independent from the Kenyan electricity grid’

In addition to the energy supply, SOFIs WORLD also carries out water purification projects. How exactly do these work?

In the beginning, it was more of a side project, telling people it might make sense to install rainwater harvesting systems in their homes. However, with the extension of the drought periods, this is increasingly becoming a major project.

For example, we are running a project west of Nairobi with 50 Maasai women. These women used to walk 3-4 hours a day to carry their 20 liter water cans from public wells home to their 3-8 children. We are now building gutters and tanks for 1,000 to 5,000 liters of water. This project is 100 percent funded by donations because the women do not have the financial means to participate.

Klaus Haegler is the founder of SOFI’s WORLD. Born in Munich, Germany, he ran a printing business for thirty years.

Image by Klaus Haegler

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