In this interview, held in at Kudang school in rural Gambia during Strathclyde’s latest trip (Dec 2013), I got a chance to sit down with the two VIP business students to discuss their aims for the trip, what they learned, and the questions that they have raised.

During the trip we visited the majority of the Gambia project schools that were beneficiaries of Solar PV systems.  While we met many very grateful beneficiaries – teachers, students and community members, we also observed first hand the difficulty in maintaining the systems while based in Scotland.  Furthermore, the business students held interviews with the nearby community members, potential local suppliers of system components, and competing business owners nearby.

Pete observed “one of the schools that we visited yesterday, in the past few months, have brought in zero.  That’s because there has been a rapid expansion and uptake of solar energy in communities.  So that means that people can go elsewhere rather than walk a little bit longer to go to the school to charge their phones for the same price…”  This implies that the business model requires a good understanding of the competition and may require adjustments to maintain the same level of revenue.

At one point Phillip describes the costs and failure rates for the system: “a crucial part of the system, which is very likely to fail first, is the battery.  It depends very much on how the battery is used, is it maintained well, is it overcharged?  But we are talking about a lifespan of 3 – 7 years depending on the level of maintenance… “.  The team tried document the total system costs and compare them to components that were available from local suppliers.  The team raised the questions as to the overall maintenance strategy: are there local contractors who can repair the system?, how much would it cost?, how to best do this?

It was clear that observations they made will make a huge contribution to VIP and the Gambia project in general as it considers how to improve the sustainability prospects for the projects.

Without further ado: