A solar plant adding 50 megawatts of power to Togo’s energy supply is doing more than just bringing power to its villages.
Dubai-based Amea Power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy suppliers in the world and is developing a big presence in Africa.
In rural Blitta, phase 3 of the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Solar Power Plant – built by Amea and funded by the Abu Dhabi Exports Office – is now well under way.
It will increase the energy supply to 70MW by the end of the year.
But it is the infrastructure developing around the site that is proving as significant as the power plant itself.
Before construction began in early 2020, electricity at the town of Blitta was patchy at best. Only 60 per cent of Togo had a reliable electricity service.
It meant pregnant women often gave birth in darkness at the town’s small maternity clinic, while children were crammed into tiny classrooms in a makeshift school, close to the plant’s construction site, and relied on candlelight to read.
Since Amea arrived in Blitta, much has changed.
“The number one treatment we offer here is for malaria,” said Dr Tehassei Abdel-Razaek, 49, who runs the health clinic.
“Before, while this was a health clinic, we would not have power for 24 hours a day. During the rainy season, we would have to stop the treatment because we had no power. It was dangerous.
“Now, we can continue and feel more secure to complete our work.”
The clinic focuses on the day-to-day health requirements of those living nearby.
There is little respite for Dr Abdel-Razaek, who lives on site thanks to purpose-built homes constructed to accommodate the six health professionals working at the clinic.
Blitta is experiencing something of a mini baby boom, with about 10 children born each week. It often means he is on call 24 hours a day.
Better sterilising equipment means infection rates have plummeted, with mothers and babies given the best possible chance of a healthy start in life.
Many see Dr Abdel-Razaek as the local godfather, as he has played such an important role in the town.
“The usual protocol for women who have given birth is to stay in hospital for 72 hours so we can monitor them, without power that was just not possible,” he said.
“We didn’t have electricity, or the space so it was first come first served.
“With the equipment we now have and the new electricity, we can work day and night and do our jobs properly.
“Infection rates were very high and a lot of people died as a result. Now, the death rates from infections are almost zero.
“We can now avoid contamination, it is making a big difference.”
Meanwhile, three school buildings and a college have been built in the town, with two more schools to be constructed.
At the Amea plant, an apprenticeship programme in solar engineering is providing a career path for young people.
Previously, youths would have left Blitta for the capital Lome, 270km away, or sought work in neighbouring Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
Nabida Hodabalo, 58, is the director of the newest school, Blitta Elementary, which accommodates 257 children.
“Since the new school building opened, our intake of children has increased almost 40 per cent,” he said.
“Electricity has allowed us to extend the hours we can teach. During the wet season, we were unable to teach as it was too dark inside the classrooms.
“Children now respect the normal school hours and they want to learn. They have a hunger for knowledge we did not see before.”
Literacy rates in Togo are at about 66 per cent. But in rural towns like Blitta, where children often join their parents to farm the fields, it is significantly lower.
That is also beginning to change.
“Children have a chair each and a table, the change has been transformative to their education,” said Mr Hodabalo, who is greeted with warmth and affection in each classroom during a school tour.
“For the past two years, their behaviour has completely changed. Now the kids are more interested by school and to study.
“Just two years ago, only six children proceeded to sixth grade – this year it is 100 per cent of the children.
“They are happy to go to school and to learn.”
With a new industrial area also planned for Blitta, job opportunities are expected to soar breathing new life into the town.
It will allow many of the children learning at the schools to remain in the town.
Roadmap to success
Salomon Agbogan, managing director of Diwa Industries, a company on the edge of Blitta’s growing industrial zone that manufactures gas bottles to distribute around Togo.
“The solar plant has been very helpful for us, as reliable power is essential for our business,” he said.
“Blitta is welcoming so many new companies that need this supply of energy.”
The company now employs 137 workers, with that number to double in the near future as the business grows.
A vehicle assembly plant is soon to open and will complement a cashew nut factory and cotton plant that are providing jobs for Blitta.
“So many companies are now looking to Blitta to open their operations, because of its location and the solar plant,” said Mr Agbogan.
“It is helping build something beautiful here.”