GlobalThe use of off-grid solar energy is growing in countries south of...

The use of off-grid solar energy is growing in countries south of the Sahara

A walk through Nairobi’s busy Mombasa Road shopping district, or even through a rural community in Kisii County, reveals something that caught the eye at this week’s African Climate Summit in the Kenyan capital: solar power that doesn’t is connected to the network.

With or without the stimulus of government policies, families and businesses are choosing to use solar energy off the electrical grid, since it is unreliable. According to the World Bank, the number of so-called mini-grids — solar systems that support a group of homes or businesses — has increased in Africa from 500 in 2000 to 3,000 today.

In Kenya, the price of electricity has increased due to the higher cost of fuel, prompting some to form their own local networks.

It’s not just individual houses in Kenya: the reliability and lower cost of solar energy, despite the high capital required for initial installation, has been attractive to steel manufacturers and cooking oil producers, which make up some of the largest customers of CP Solar, a Nairobi company that installs this equipment.

Its CEO, Rashmi Shah, said the company has installed 25 megawatts of solar-powered systems in the last six years. “It’s a very clean energy source,” she said, and customers can recoup their initial investment by saving money in the first four years.

“We are not polluting the air at all; we do not raise temperatures; We are not affecting the Earth’s climate. That’s why there’s more and more emphasis on cleaner energy,” he told The Associated Press.

More than 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable access to electricity. Blackouts are common. Renewable energy is more reliable, but its potential for the region remains largely unrealized. African nations located below the Sahara have 60% of the world’s solar potential.

“The fact that Africa has sunlight for almost the whole year makes us unique,” ​​Kenyan President William Ruto told a climate summit ministerial session on Monday.

In Nigeria, as in Kenya, things are changing. Most homes have relied on gasoline-powered generators for electricity, but the government recently removed a gasoline subsidy, prompting increased interest in solar power, dealers say. Only about half of Nigerians are connected to the grid, and even for them, power outages are common.

The Nigerian government has not announced incentives to promote solar power, such as a tax cut on imports of solar equipment, something that dealers are asking for.

Although the government has not provided support, the private sector has taken the initiative to promote it by offering homes and small businesses the option to pay in installments for their solar installations.

“The problem was affordability, but now customers can pay in deferred installments over an 18-month period,” said Tunde Oladipupo, a sales agent for Sun King, a solar energy company. Oladipupo, who lives in the town of Oyo, in southwestern Nigeria, said his company also serves small businesses hungry for electricity, such as those that run freezers or pump water from wells.

Having addressed the difficulties posed by high initial costs, the model has proven to be a solution to the social problems caused by the Nigerian energy crisis in low-income households that are poorly served by the electricity grid. For Monsurat Qadri, the challenge was to help her young daughter with her homework at night, when there was no light. Mains electricity was not available and the other option, a generator, had become too expensive.

But now “my worries about lighting are over,” Qadri said. She has installed a small solar energy system that powers five light bulbs and a fan, and finds it easy to pay the installments each month.

In Nigeria, unlike Kenya, the use of solar energy in industry is rare. “As far as I know, not a single one,” said Mohammed Ettu, who runs Makhade Power Solutions in Lagos, referring to large industrial companies in Nigeria that use solar power.

In South Africa, the third largest economic power in sub-Saharan Africa, the government announced a new policy in 2021 that allows mining companies and large industrial operations to generate up to 100 megawatts of their own electricity, up from just one megawatt previously, reducing its dependence on the national grid and promotes renewable energy sources. As a result, several companies, including Sibanye Stillwater, Anglo American Platinum and Gold Fields, have announced plans to generate significant amounts of renewable energy in the near term.

Another example of this change is the Ford vehicle assembly plant in Silverton, a suburb of the city of Pretoria, which currently gets more than 35% of its electricity from solar power.

South Africa is also taking steps to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power. The Komati power station in Mpumalanga province was closed in 2022 and will be transformed into a clean electricity generation hub with more than 150 megawatts of solar power, 70 megawatts of wind power and 150 megawatts of battery storage.

In the midst of the current electricity crisis this year, the South African government offered tax incentives for households and businesses that purchase renewable energy sources and for households that install solar panels on their rooftops.

Companies that adopt renewable energy can reduce their taxable income by 125% of the cost of the investment. Homes that install solar panels on their roofs may request a refund of 25% of the cost of the panels, up to a maximum of R15,000 ($779).

In Kenya, despite CP Solar’s focus on industrial businesses, the company also does some domestic installations. One of them is in the house of its director, Shah. It has allowed him to be completely off the grid and saved him from a recent national blackout, in which people who relied on electricity company Kenya Power and Lighting Company, including the country’s main airport, were in the dark for hours.

“That day I was happy at home watching (the channel) SuperSport. I think he was going to broadcast a football game,” Shah said.

The high cost of electricity in the country, which ranges from 20 to 30 Kenyan shillings per kilowatt-hour (0.14 to 0.20 US cents), has also encouraged the change, Shah added.

The abundance of sunlight in Kenya—and Africa—favors solar power generation, which Shah calls a “very lucky” opportunity to have “free electricity.”


Adebayo reported from Abuja, Nigeria, and Magome from Johannesburg.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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