Fri, 24/04/2015 - 13:00
Current Issue 54
Biogas to Play an Important Role in Rural Africa
Managing Director, Gordon Ayres says AGAMA’s biogas digester gives “people in poverty a fighting chance to escape”
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Tom Cullum
AGAMA Biogas (Pty) Ltd, a division of consulting and engineering Group, AGAMA Energy, demonstrates that there is no time like the present to utilise biogas in Africa. Through the manufacture of biogas digesters, the company hopes to expand the reach of its low cost solution to as many areas on the continent as possible.
As one of the fastest growing renewable energy sectors in the developed world, with annual market growth exceeding 30 percent a year, biogas has become an important contender in the race to becoming green; even more so of benefit to developing countries where it has been widely used as a source of energy and waste treatment.
“Our idea grew at such a rate that a division of the wider AGAMA Energy Group was dedicated to the project, and it has a huge number of advantages that will enhance people’s lives here,” details Gordon Ayres, Managing Director of AGAMA Biogas.
The capturing of methane through the use of biogas technology has an immensely important role to play in rural energisation, poverty alleviation and development, increased efficiency and competiveness; all resulting in improved management of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The biogas solution fits Africa like a hand in a glove; it reduces the odour on the streets, reduces waste and the spread of disease, and transforms this into onsite energy production to meet household gas cooking needs and slurry for natural fertiliser.
“It gives people in poverty a fighting chance to escape,” he emphasises.
After eight years of development, a key aspect of the biogas solution has been developing the best strategy to bring the digester to market in an effective way so as to reach as many Africans as possible. Ayres identified that there are more than 300,000 rural South Africa households that could benefit for this technology right now: “Our product takes very little technical skill to build onsite, however the challenge lies with enhancing local awareness of our relatively niche offering [at the moment]. The most effective way to reach the market has been through a handful of local distributors who talk to the market for us and consequently, we have seen the number of units sold rise to 500 this year,” he explains.
In essence, AGAMA Biogas provide the relevant training and licensing and the distributors communicate with the people that live in the area – sometimes in the official local language if needs be – to make sure the customer is fully aware of the product and its advantages. Moreover, AGAMA make sure that the digester’s point of manufacture is as close to the point of installation as possible.
Our distributors, supporters and designers took a risk selling our technology in the early stages of development. They helped with design and foreseeing any issues we may have in the market. Without them, we would not have made our mark thus far.
“We want our product to be widely recognised as a simple solution that will eventually become the norm for households or businesses".
By focusing on this sales methodology, we hope to make it clear that we address current issues in Africa via our award-winning solution, selling to those locally who understand these local conditions,” states Ayres.
Model for up-scaling
With other domestic energy solutions a “hot topic” in South Africa at the moment, such as a flushing toilet, the use of available resources to improve living conditions is attracting the attention of city councils and municipalities. “And our solutions fit right in here. There is a growing understanding of biogas technology from these bodies and by setting our gas at half the price of LP gas, there is room for substantial growth. People are becoming open to biogas digesters and learning that waste can have a physical value.
“This year, we intend to push on every level to identify our core markets,” highlights Ayres.
Currently, AGAMA Biogas has experienced a “shotgun effect”, where the company has drawn interest from a wide range of parties; from agriculture to supermarkets, low cost housing provided by city councils, to interest from charities such as Oxfam operating on a local level. Ayres says the area that the digester can really make a difference is the low cost housing market: “This is not just exciting from a waste perspective – providing gas for cooking – but it provides slurry to grow food. If this goes well, we will look at implementing an SME business model in order to reach a wider sphere.”
Other markets that Ayres hopes to explore are private homes and guest lodges, where there is a big eco push at the moment. “People want an honest experience of Africa when they visit, and our solution can play a role in enhancing this,” he adds.
All of the above indicates that AGAMA’s biogas solution is ready to be rolled out at a moment’s notice. In support of this is the ease of construction, providing an easy point of access into work for local people as Ayres further explains: “There is minimal skill involved to fit a digester and we have a model in place for those who are keen to join our efforts. Just one skilled person is needed and therefore, we have a business that can be up-scaled significantly; going from constructing one to 100 units a day to meet rapid growth demands.”