The residents of Bolodou, a village in rural Guinea, have been using battery-powered lamps at night for years. But now — thanks to a crazy project started by a math teacher named Ibrahima Tounkara, the 90 homes in this small, isolated village have electricity 24/7. Last year, Tounkara used up all his savings building a micro-hydroelectric dam on a little stream that runs through the area. Currently, his set-up generates 9kW;
Tounkara is now a hero in his home village. Just last year– after a year of research and planning– this handyman managed to set up a hydroelectric dam on Gbasso creek, which cuts across Bolodou. To build the dam, he invested 50 million Guinean francs [4,650 euros] from his own pocket. However, this dam now provides a steady stream of electricity to 80 of the 94 homes in the village. It’s an amazing success for a project that no one dared to believe in at first.
“I bought a smartphone so I could access the internet and I started researching dams”
At first, people in the village thought I was crazy when I explained that I wanted to build a hydroelectric dam. But I was sure that I could find a solution to create power in Bolodou. I grew up here and my family lives here. I’ve always found it shocking that nothing has been done to develop these small villages that are completely cut off from the rest of the world.
I work as a maths teacher, but I’ve always been really interested in energy production. My first project involved solar panels. I learned to install them and made money offering up my services to families who wanted solar panels. I also built a little phone-charging station in Bolodou that is powered with solar energy. Little by little, I did research on hydroelectric energy. In Bolodou, there are little waterfalls and we aren’t exploiting their potential.
In March 2016, I bought a smartphone so I could have internet access and I started researching dams. By December, I had started construction on my own dam. Using diagrams and videos that I had seen, I made a small turbine connected by a pulley to a dynamo, which transforms mechanical energy into electricity.
Then, I built a micro-hydroelectric dam to power the turbine. I started by building a small canal, which diverts the water from the stream bed to send it towards a surge chamber, which is a pool that is used to regulate the flow. The water is then funnelled into a penstock — another channel used to convey water towards the turbine. A mason from the village helped me a bit but, mostly, I just made do with what I had on hand.
I estimate that the dam is producing about 9 kW of electricity. I asked residents to pay 2,000 Guinean francs per week [0.19 euros] to have access to electricity. It’s a lot cheaper than buying batteries for your electric torch or petrol for a gas lamp. I use the money to pay a young man who I trained to do a bit of maintenance on the dam and who keep it running smoothly. I’ve already been contacted by people in other villages asking me to come build dams for them.
In Guinea, only one out of every four people has access to electricity, according to the latest statistics from the World Bank. Last April, the government said it intended to connect 721,000 homes to electricity between now and 2020. But the population is growing impatient and there have been increasing numbers of protests, many of them extremely tense. On September 13, a young man was killed and about 30 people were injured during a protest that spiralled into violent clashes with the police in Boké, a town located about 300 kilometres northwest of the capital, Conakry. The protesters were demanding to be added to the water and electricity distribution networks. The country has significant hydroelectric potential (estimated at 6,000 MW) but, currently, only 2% of that amount is being used.