Congolese president makes off-grid renewables pledge

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The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reportedly pledged to use off-grid renewable energy systems to bring electricity to at least 21 million people by 2029.

A press release issued by London-based off-grid solar system supplier Bboxx yesterday quoted an announcement made by president Félix Tshisekedi, apparently at the UK-Africa Investment Summit held in London on Monday.

According to Bboxx, Tshisekedi said: “With the DRC’s growing population, new grid connections are needed each year to keep the electrification rate constant. My ambition is to use decentralized and renewable energy solutions as a foundation to improve the country’s electrification rate from 9% to 30% during my presidency.”

Electric ambition

President Tshisekedi took office a year ago in an election described as the first peaceful handover of power in the vast African nation since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960, although some observers reported irregularities in the ballot.

The electricity access pledge would equate to bringing power to at least a further 21 million people in the nation, based on its current population of around 100 million. Under the terms of the constitution, Tshisekedi can only be re-elected once after his current five-year term.

Some 10 million of those set to receive standalone generation kits could receive Bboxx-branded PV panels after the British, self-styled ‘next-generation utility’ signed a memorandum of understanding with the DRC government at the London summit.

Commitment

Minister of hydraulic resources and electricity, Eustache Muhanzi Mubembe, signed a commitment for Bboxx to supply 10% of its population with the company’s solar home systems by 2024.

Solar start-up Bboxx, which has successfully raised millions of dollars in a series of funding rounds, is active across sub-Saharan Africa. The company boasts 200,000 clients in the Democratic Republic of Congo, although that figure is some way short of the 2.5 million projected when it signed a similar commitment with the government 18 months ago.

The company said yesterday the 10 million-system agreement signed on Monday would lead to the creation of 100,000 jobs in the DRC – ten times as many as it predicted when it signed the 2.5-million system deal which secured an import tax exemption on its products in June 2018.

Bboxx, like many of its Africa-focused European off-grid provider peers, is collecting swathes of energy consumption and payment pattern data from the users of its solar panels and could use such information to function as a full-blown utility or to expand into other sectors, such as micro finance. That possibility has sparked concerns about a lack of data ownership rights in Africa.