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Lessons from Kenya about what’s holding back solar technology in Africa

 

The spread of solar and other modern energy technologies in African countries is considerably low. Despite the global viability and growth in the solar energy market, African countries continue to lag behind. They represent less than 1% of the market demand for solar energy.

 

The region accounts for only 9% of the global installed capacity of photo-voltaics (PV) which convert light into electricity using semi-conducting materials. The solar PV technology power generation rate rose from 1% in 2010 to just between 3% and 4% in 2013.

 

This is despite the fact that Africa has the best solar resource in the world. Most countries on the African continent receive between 4 – 6 kWh/m2/day in most months of the year. This means that in a day, a square metre of solar panel can generate 4 to 6 kilowatt units of electricity. In simple terms, it could power 400 – 600 10-watt light bulbs for one hour.

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Five things the new government should do to help Kenya meet its energy needs

 

Without energy there would be no electricity to support the economic, social or political growth of any country. But to make it a real enabler of growth, there needs to be enough of it and it must be clean, affordable and reliable.

 

Kenya faces challenges around availability, affordability and reliability. Kenya ranks quite well on some scores compared to other countries on the continent, but quite badly on others. On the bright side Kenya’s electricity generation is clean compared to a country like South Africa which relies heavily on coal. Kenya’s power mix is 85% plus renewable based as it relies mostly on hydro and geothermal.

 

But in terms of supply it doesn’t rank that well. If we divide the total installed capacity by the number of inhabitants, every Kenyan would have a meagre 50 Watts if we divided the total installed capacity between the country’s inhabitants. For their part, South African citizens would have 30 times more, or 1,500 Watts.

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Millions of urban Africans still don’t have electricity: here’s what can be done

 

At least 110 million of the 600 million people still living without access to electricity in Africa live in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from existing power grid infrastructure.

 

In Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Liberia alone there are up to 95 million people living in urban areas. All in close proximity to the grid. In Kenya about 70% of off-grid homes are located within 1.2km of a power line. And estimates for “under-the-grid” populations across sub-Saharan Africa range from 61% to 78%.

 

Besides energy access being crucial for many basic human needs, these underserved populations represent a massive commercial opportunity for cash-strapped sub-Saharan African utilities. Electricity providers could reach tens of millions of densely packed customers without the cost of a last-mile rural grid extension.

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PROVIDES A ROADMAP FOR ENERGY ACCESS IN “THE CONVERSATION”

 

Dr. Rebekah Shirley is Research Direc­tor at Power for All and Vis­it­ing Research Scholar, at the Strath­more Energy Research Cen­ter (SERC) at Strath­more Uni­ver­sity and both alumni and Post-​​doctoral Fel­low at RAEL.

 

At least 110 mil­lion of the 600 mil­lion peo­ple still liv­ing with­out access to elec­tric­ity in Africa live in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from exist­ing power grid infrastructure.

 

In Nige­ria, Tan­za­nia, Ghana and Liberia alone there are up to 95 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in urban areas. All in close prox­im­ity to the grid. In Kenya about 70% of off-​​grid homes are located within 1.2km of a power line. And esti­mates for “under-​​the-​​grid” pop­u­la­tions across sub-​​Saharan Africa range from 61% to 78%.

 

Besides energy access being cru­cial for many basic human needs, these under­served pop­u­la­tions rep­re­sent a mas­sive com­mer­cial oppor­tu­nity for cash-​​strapped sub-​​Saharan African util­i­ties. Elec­tric­ity providers could reach tens of mil­lions of densely packed cus­tomers with­out the cost of a last-​​mile rural grid extension.

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