SEATTLE — The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals include a commitment to universal access to modern energy by 2030 (SDG 7). The World Energy Outlook 2016 shows that 1.2 billion people still live without access to electricity. Access to electricity in Africa is the lowest in the world. More than 95 percent of those living without electricity are in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, mostly in rural areas. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 620 million people still live without electricity. Access to electricity in Africa is an important aspect of the development of the continent as it is essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation, healthcare and other services. Many African governments are intensifying their efforts to tackle the numerous barriers to electricity access.
One country in the region that is showing some success is Kenya. The country is developing its power-generating capacity to provide for increasing demand. Generating capacity has increased from 1,765 MW to 2,422 MW in the last few years and several capacity-building programs are ongoing. Most of Kenya’s energy comes from renewable sources, with more than 60 percent coming from hydro and geothermal power. Kenya opened the world’s largest geothermal plant in 2016 and is also in the process of building Africa’s biggest wind farm.
Kenya is furthermore working to achieve universal access to electricity by 2020 through the Last Mile Connectivity Project. This initiative aims to connect one million customers to the electricity grid per year. When the country’s electrification campaign began in 2013, only 27 percent of Kenyan households had access to electricity. In 2016 alone, 1.3 million households were connected to the electricity grid.
The first phase of the Last Mile Connectivity Project is connecting households that are near the existing grid infrastructure but are not connected. One of the reasons for this is the cost of connecting to the electricity grid. The Kenyan government is attempting to address these demand-side barriers to access by reducing connection charges and offering customers the option to pay it in installments. The application process was also scrapped because it excluded illiterate households from the process.
These improvements are largely in urban areas as it will take several more years to expand the centralized grid to rural communities. One rural solution is the use of mini-grid and off-grid systems. Kenya is developing a system of mini-grids to provide electricity to communities far from the national grid. Mini-grids are localized electricity networks that typically use renewable energy sources to provide electricity to rural communities and businesses. This system of 23 solar power stations will provide energy access to more than a million people in remote regions of Kenya.
Several off-grid solutions are also being developed in Kenya. Companies like M-KOPA, Off-Grid Electric and Mobisol are using pay-as-you-go business models to deliver off-grid solar services to rural households. Through M-KOPA customers get a solar panel, a few lights, a cell phone charger and a solar-powered radio. Off-grid technologies can be installed faster and at a lower cost than large grid-scale projects.
By combining grid and off-grid strategies power can be brought to Kenya and other African countries faster and more cheaply. This combined strategy will also address one of the central barriers to universal access to electricity in Africa by also providing power to rural areas.
– Helena Kamper