Kenya is keen to expand solar deployment

Off grid solar and solar mini grids are becoming all the rage in East Africa, especially in Kenya, where more and more communities are benefiting from clean and reliable solar power. To chart some of the feedback from these communities Vulcan Impact Investing and mini-grid operator Steama.co conducted a survey from the users of the mini-grid systems, to see how the systems had impacted their lives.

One of the most interesting outcomes of the survey of just under 200 users of the solar mini-grids is that 10% of them now wanted more solar, as they saw it as a way of making their businesses or farms more profitable. Often, the stand-alone solar off-grid systems that are sold in Africa are available with appliances attached to the systems, which can also be used for money-making activities, such as hair clippers.

Also included within the survey was a breakdown of how much the customers were spending on solar power, with the average of USD 5.34 a month. Importantly, the systems are also stopping customers from relying on kerosene or batteries for power, which can be dangerous and unhealthy.

““Prior to the installation of our grids, 86% of our customers used unsafe and unhealthy kerosene, disposable batteries or diesel generators to meet their energy needs,” read the report. “Post grid installation, only 4% of customers are still using any of these fossil fuels.””

East Africa leading the way

Across the entire African continent there are estimated to be more than 600 million people without access to power grids. East Africa has taken to solar to try and remedy this, with Kenya one of the countries leading the way.

Interestingly, SunCulture, a U.S. startup that sells solar watering kits to Kenyan farmers, announced yesterday that it has plans to expand into other East African countries. The company has sold almost 1,000 units of its solar-powered irrigation kits, in seven East African countries, and now plans to establish a heavier presence in the countries outside of Kenya.

It is in East Africa that all manner of solar solutions are really taking off, especially off-grid solutions. A report in September by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) found that approximately 50% of the total investment made in off-grid solar in 2015 was in East African countries, specifically USD 139.8 million of USD 276 million.

It is therefore becoming a vital technology to bring reliable and sustainable electricity to communities within the region, especially as the prices of PV keep falling, while more governments in the region are enacting favorable polices to stimulate growth in the regional market.