Mercy Ships & Independent Energy BV

Better to sail together than alone; more hands on deck

Mercy Ships believes that access to primary basic health care is a human right. However, about 5 billion people globally lack access to safe surgery and so the hospital ship, Africa Mercy and its 400 plus volunteer crew are deployed to provide medical care and invest in medical capacity building in the nations that Mercy Ships serves. Dental care is one of the areas in which they are currently laying the foundations for long-term change in Guinea. Here the Mercy Ships Dental Training Clinic is working together with the Guinean Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and Dr David Ugai, Mercy Ships’ lead dentist, to restructure the Dental and Biomedical Programme at the only dental school in Guinea: the Gamal Abdel Nasser University in Conakry.

Mercy Ships created a brand-new, state of the art dental clinic inside the university so that lecturers could run their own clinical practice from the university and their students would be able to both attend and get practical experience at the same time. However, this brand-new, state of the art dental clinic is powered by an unreliable local power grid. This is a particularly urgent problem as sensitive diagnostic technologies, like the X-ray machine, require a clean and consistent flow of electrical currents to function properly and to preserve the lifespan of the expensive equipment. Mercy Ships joined the Access to Modern Energy accelerator programme in the hope of finding a solution that would provide a reliable source of energy, is cost-effective and easy to implement in Guinea.

Mercy Ships found a partner in Independent Energy at the Clean Energy Challenge Marketplace event. Although they were approached by several other groups and individuals with interesting ideas, Independent Energy was the perfect partner for Mercy Ships. Bruce Barr, Programs Infrastructure Development Director: “In terms of where we needed to be going, they came with a very straightforward approach and that was what we needed at that time.” The two partners propose the implementation of a hybrid energy solution in which the local energy grid will be supplemented with on-site energy infrastructure, including solar panels on the roof of the facility and a battery storage system. Bruce Barr: “This also leads to a positive environmental impact. Studies have shown that a clean and consistent supply of electricity can lengthen the life of some electronic equipment by up to 50 percent.” 

For the user test in the ‘get’ stage, the two partners are making sure whether their proposal is feasible by calculating whether they will be able to install enough storage capacity and enough solar energy. Bruce Barr: “This test is very good for us as it is sort of a feasibility study. We are currently doing an energy audit of all the equipment. A couple of the students are keeping an energy diary for us. They write down all the equipment they use as they go through their day-to-day tasks. This will give us a fair idea of what the most used equipment is and it also engages the end-users as well as it makes them aware of what they are doing.” 

What we found very beneficial was the exposure to the wider humanitarian network in terms of organisations that are all working on the same type of problems… that support and that kind of network has actually helped us wheel along this process a lot quicker than we would have done if we had to drive it ourselves.” 

To define the project’s long-term goals, Bruce Barr thought that the Mountain of Tomorrow template in the ‘get’ stage was a very helpful tool: “It has been a very interesting process to work through. It visually engaging and it has been very good in helping you to define your long-term goal and the steps required to get there: what are the things you need to do now and what do you need to do in a few months? That has been a very helpful tool for us. It also helps defining a way forward with your new partner in terms of the relationship you will have.” If everything goes according to plan, Mercy Ships hopes to replicate this project across other sites and expand its program in the next 5 years. Bruce Barr: “We are currently active in Senegal and Guinea and are planning to expand our activities in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cameroon, the DRC, and Madagascar.” 

Bruce Barr found the Access to Modern Energy accelerator programme a very positive experience: “What we found very beneficial was the exposure to the wider humanitarian network in terms of organisations that are all working on the same type of problems. There is a wider network of organisations that are there to support NGOs and humanitarian organisations in their quest to be better at what they do. That’s been very eye-opening to us and in my opinion that support and that kind of network has actually helped us wheel along this process a lot quicker than we would have done if we had to drive it ourselves.” 

Innovation steps towards impact


How can we provide a reliable source of energy that is cost-effective and easy to implement in local a context like in Guinea?  


Independent Energy

Mercy Ships found a partner in Independent Energy and together they are proposing the implementation of a hybrid energy solution in which the local energy grid will be supplemented with on-site energy infrastructure, including solar panels and a battery storage system. 


An energy audit

The two partners are making sure whether their proposal is feasible by doing an energy audit.  

Students are keeping an energy diary in which they write down all the equipment they use as they go through their day-to-day tasks. This will give the partners a fair idea of what the most used equipment is and it also engages the end-users. 


Mercy Ships hopes to replicate this project and expand its programme in the next 5 years. 

It can be a struggle to get people on board when innovating in a project. It can involve some extra tasks for your colleagues and so you might come across some initial resistance.  

Once they understand what is in it for them and what the potential outcomes could be, then they will be a lot more receptive as they will realise that the additional work won’t be in vain.  

Try to find some early adopters as fast as possible and get them on board. 

Movement for modern energy in humanitarian settings

Read the challenges of the Humanitarian Organisations involved in the Accelerator Programme. Would you like to share your energy stories, challenge or solutions? Submit it to our demand and supply platform, Source2Gather. Or join us at the upcoming Energy and Innovation Summit on 13 April 2021. We’re committed to matching today’s challenges with tomorrow’s solutions.

Access To Modern Energy Programme

The AME programme is about doing new things to solve problems and improve the quality of renewable energy access in humanitarian programmes around the world. Access to Modern Energy is increasingly recognized as an area of humanitarian concern. If communities affected by crises go without proper access to energy, it becomes impossible for them to meet the basic needs of life. The programme enables humanitarian organisations to be the catalysts for tackling specific energy challenges, whilst opening themselves up to receiving the knowledge and business insights from energy experts and private-sector partnerships. Ultimately, the projects will provide local insights for humanitarian partnerships to enable cost efficiency and improve quality of humanitarian work.  DCHI brings together humanitarian organisations, research and educational institutes, businesses of all sizes and governmental actors. The coalition enables them to jointly find, develop and scale innovative solutions. 

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