Off-grid solar going from strength to strength in eastern Africa

There are few more heartening stories in the global solar industry than the proliferation of off-grid solar solutions in areas that lack reliable access to electricity. East Africa plays a vital role in this story, which is compounded by the recently published EAC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Report by REN21 in cooperation with UNIDO.

Among various positive renewable energy developments in the region, the progress of off-grid solar stood out as the most encouraging success story. In fact, off-grid solar PV is so firmly established in the region, that in 2015 approximately half of global investment in the off-grid solar sector was made in the region. Specifically, USD 139.8 million of USD 276 million.

The success of off-grid PV can be attributed to a number of factors, including the dramatic fall in prices for PV technology and favorable government policies that support PV deployment. However, something that should also be lauded as a major factor in the growth of the market is the innovative business models that off-grid solar companies have pursued in the region.

Some of the companies leading the charge include German off-grid solar provider Mobisol, Kenyan company M-Kopa, and Off-Grid Electric, who recently won a United Nations climate change award for its pioneering financial package it offers its customers. Each of these companies have incorporated innovative problem solving solutions into their business models, to expand the reach of off-grid solar across a variety of east African nations. Mobisol has even taken to the skies, using drones to deliver parts for its solar arrays.

The report also highlighted other renewable energy developments in the east Africa region, citing significant investment in mini/micro grid, and a large percentage of renewable energy that makes up the grid-connected power generating capacity in the region. In fact, renewable electricity made up 65% of the region’s total installed, grid-connected power generating capacity in 2015, significantly higher than other regions of Africa.

“Renewables are uniquely positioned to provide needed energy services in a sustainable manner – more rapidly and generally at lower cost than fossil fuels,” commented Executive Secretary of REN21 Christine Lins. “The EAC has a vast potential of, among other renewable energy sources, hydropower, geothermal, and solar PV, which had been exploited only marginally so far.”