This week I spoke with an inspiring creative engineer working in the renewables space in Australia. He’s got an interesting side project that sounded incredible, working to save lives in rural Africa.

Andrew Dickson is a renewable energy project developer with 15 years of experience developing large scale wind and solar projects across Australia. He’s currently Project Manager for the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project, a very large scale wind and solar project in the Pilbara, Western Australia. The project is set to export energy to Indonesia and Singapore, to power mines and mineral processing in the Pilbara and to produce green hydrogen for local and export markets.

Outside of his day job however, Andrew has a ‘side project’ which has led him to be part of an initiative several years in the making. Hot on the heels of a successful global project called TeamTrev, a zero-emission race around the world in 2010/2011, Andrew formed a new team upon receiving a call for help from Zimbabwe. The challenge: Could they develop an electric vehicle to transport pregnant women from remote villages to hospitals in northern Zimbabwe, to help reduce maternal mortality? The team took it on. Called the African Solar Taxi, it has evolved into a low mass, rugged electric vehicle to help address transport poverty and maternal mortality in northern Zimbabwe.

When women choose to give birth in their villages, without proper medical care or sanitary hygienic conditions, medical complications during delivery can be disastrous. Many serious conditions can all result in the death of women or their babies. Just as importantly, unassisted births in villages are twice as likely to result in the transmission of HIV from an HIV-positive mother to her child. A key contributing factor to maternal mortality and morbidity in Zimbabwe is the lack of adequate, reliable and affordable transport services. So in comes the idea of the Solar Taxi.

The African Solar Project

“It really is developing a new form of transport that solves transport poverty that is not solved in other ways currently. “

Andrew and his team are in the process of finalising the prototype and the pilot to test the vehicle is on for early next year. Another brilliant start up collaboration one would hope will ultimately receive the required government and private backing it needs, seeing it addresses an urgent and real problem and will inevitably save lives.

African Solar Taxi prototype 2018 and at the rear the famous TeamTrev electric vehicle

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub (Pilbara) project

It’s weaving the indigenous people much closer into the economic fabric of the Pilbara, which has been somewhat achieved with mining projects but there’s a really big difference with mining project and renewable energy projects. Simplistically renewable projects don’t take away the resource from the land, the resource is completely reversible at the end of the project, it doesn’t pollute. So it’s completely different. “

Both the Pilbara and African Solar projects blew me away in their own way. The positive impact the Pilbara project could have on the local indigenous community, for future job opportunities and also the export potential created is massive. It’s currently an 11,000 MW project, which would generate approximately 55 terra watt hours per year. Victoria alone consumes 40 terawatt hours of electricity per year, so it gives you an idea of the capacity of the project.

Andrew’s Solar Taxi story is so uplifting. Using technology and teams working together to save lives where its needed most. Really inspiring and that it’s been a labour of love makes it even more incredible.

We also spent time talking about the renewables space here in Australia generally. We talked power bills, job creation in the sector and the areas we need to focus on if we are going to take advantage of the exponential changes occurring in the space.

I asked what he’d prioritise if he was made leader of the country. 

“ ……take the handbrake off the pent up desire for innovation and really letting rip to make the most of Australia’s competitive advantage with renewable resources and also with development of technologies because there is so much economic and social potential for Australia that other countries can replicate. That’s what I’d do. I’d take the handbrake off and let rip.”

Andrew highlighted that the installation of large scale solar PV is growing at 28 percent per year in Australia, doubling approximately every four years. Wind is growing at a similar rate, indicating clearly that we are exponentially shifting the way we source power. He spoke about what the current gaps are and what the key priorities are for the country and globally.

” Clearly our leaders are struggling around the concept of pricing carbon. Climate change exists because of the market distortion. We don’t pay for the externalities like the pollution that fossil fuels cause, and the water that coal fired power stations effectively use. Those things are effectively gifted to the fossil fuel generators. So most of the argy bargy has been struggling to put a price on something that has been free. Carbon. A fair few incumbent industries with a lot of political power are there, but the world is changing under their feet so fast that it’s a tidal wave that can’t be stopped.

It’s brilliant to know there are professionals like Andrew working in the sector who are passionate about going that extra mile to volunteer their time, skills and network to projects like the African Solar Taxi, which will inevitably save lives in regional Africa.

It’s clear that the pivot to renewables is opening up a massive opportunity in developed AND developing countries and will ultimately drive projects that could make a difference to people’s lives on the ground. I can’t wait to see how the solar taxi goes and wish Andrew and the team huge success for the trial early next year.

So thanks for coming on the show Andrew and talking to us about the project in Zimbabwe and also for doing such a stellar job in helping to drive the conversation around the uptake of clean energy in Australia. I’m looking forward to watching the progress of the African Solar Taxi in Zimbabwe and of course, all the stories you’ll have to tell once it’s up and running so hoping to hear about them too.

Enjoy the episode!

Show notes

Andrew Dickson – LinkedIn
Asian Renewable Energy Hub
Snowtown Windfarm
African Solar Taxi
Mobility for Africa
Simon Holmes à Court
The Clean Energy Council
The Smart Energy Council
All Energy