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Embracing Off-Grid Solar Power: A Ray of Light in Kenya

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A leisurely walk through the bustling business district of Mombasa Road in Nairobi or a visit to a remote community in Kisii County, Kenya, reveals a growing trend that is capturing the spotlight at the African Climate Summit in Nairobi this year: off-grid solar power solutions.

Rise of Off-Grid Solar Amid Grid Reliability Issues

Whether spurred by government policies or not, families and businesses are increasingly opting for off-grid solar systems as a reliable alternative to an erratic electricity grid. According to data from the World Bank, the number of mini grids, which are solar power systems serving clusters of homes or businesses, has surged from 500 in Africa in 2000 to a staggering 3,000 today.

In Kenya, soaring electricity prices due to increased fuel costs have prompted some to establish their own local power networks to ensure a consistent energy supply.

Diverse Adoption: From Homes to Heavy Industries

The shift towards off-grid solar isn’t confined to individual households in Kenya. The dependability and cost-effectiveness of solar energy have lured even heavy industries like steel manufacturers and cooking oil factories. One Nairobi-based company, CP Solar, has emerged as a major player in this space.

Rashmi Shah, the managing director of CP Solar, proudly noted that his company has installed 25 megawatts of solar systems over the past six years. He highlighted the environmental benefits, stating, “It is a very clean source of energy,” and pointed out that clients can recover their initial installation costs within just four years.

Environmental Promise of Solar Energy: A Driving Force

Indeed, solar energy’s potential to mitigate environmental impacts has been a driving force behind its adoption. As Shah emphasised, solar energy doesn’t pollute the air, raise temperatures, or adversely affect the Earth’s climate. Consequently, there is a growing emphasis on cleaner energy sources.

In sub-Saharan Africa, over half a billion people lack access to reliable electricity, with power outages being a common occurrence. In Nigeria, as in Kenya, the landscape is changing. Most households have depended on gasoline generators for power, but recently the government removed a gasoline subsidy, prompting increased interest in solar power, according to dealers. Only about half of Nigerians are connected to the grid, and even for them, power cuts are common.

Private Sector Innovation: Making Solar Affordable in Nigeria

Where the government has been unhelpful, the private sector has taken the lead in promoting solar energy by offering households and small businesses the option of paying for their solar installations over time.

The affordability challenge of high upfront costs has been addressed through innovative payment models, which have proven to be a lifeline for socially disadvantaged households grappling with Nigeria’s energy crisis.

Mining and Industrial Sectors Embrace Solar Power

In South Africa, a notable shift towards renewable energy is occurring. The government introduced a new policy in 2021, allowing mining companies and large industrial operations to generate up to 100 megawatts of their own electricity, significantly reducing their reliance on the national grid and promoting renewable energy sources.

Several companies, including Sibanye Stillwater, Anglo American Platinum, and Gold Fields, have announced plans to generate significant amounts of renewable power in the short term. Even the Ford vehicle assembly plant in Silverton, Pretoria, currently sources over 35% of its electricity from solar power.

South Africa’s Green Revolution: Reducing Coal Dependency

South Africa is also taking steps to reduce its dependence on coal-fired power. The Komati power station in Mpumalanga was decommissioned in 2022 and will be converted to clean generation with more than 150 megawatts of solar, 70 megawatts of wind, and 150 megawatts of storage batteries.

Amid the ongoing electricity crisis this year, the South African government offered tax incentives for households and businesses that purchase renewable energy sources and for households that instal solar panels on their rooftops.

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