NAIROBI (AP) — A stroll through Nairobi’s bustling Mombasa Road business district, or even a rural community in Kenya’s Kisii County, highlights something grabbing attention at the Africa Summit on climate in Nairobi this week: solar power that is not connected. at the grid.
With or without the encouragement of government policy, families and businesses are choosing off-grid solar power in the face of an unreliable grid. According to the World Bank, the number of mini-grids, ie solar systems that support a group of homes or businesses, has increased from 500 in Africa in 2000 to 3,000 today.
In Kenya, the price of electricity has increased due to rising fuel costs, prompting some to set up their own local grid.
It’s not just about single-family homes in Kenya: the reliability and lower cost of solar power, despite high initial installation capital, has attracted steel fabricators and cooking oil factories, who constitute some of the biggest clients of a Nairobi-based company.
CP Solar chief executive Rashmi Shah said his company had installed 25 megawatts of solar systems in the past six years. “It’s a very clean energy source,” he said, and customers are able to recoup their upfront costs through savings in the first four years.
“We don’t pollute the air at all; we are not increasing temperatures; we do not affect the Earth’s climate. That’s why the focus is increasingly on cleaner energy,” he told The Associated Press.
More than half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have reliable access to electricity. Power outages are frequent. Renewables are more reliable, but their promise for the region remains largely unfulfilled. African countries below the Sahara have 60% of the world’s solar potential.
“Africa’s almost year-round sunshine makes us unique,” Kenyan President William Ruto said during a ministerial session at the climate summit on Monday.
In Nigeria, as in Kenya, things are changing. Most households relied on gasoline generators for their electricity, 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 outages are common.
The Nigerian government has not announced any incentives to promote solar energy, such as reducing import taxes on solar equipment, as demanded by dealers.
But where government hasn’t been of much help, the private sector has taken the initiative to promote it by offering households and small businesses the option to pay for their solar installations over time.
“The problem was affordability, but now customers can pay installments over an 18-month period,” said Tunde Oladipupo, an agent for Sun King, a solar energy company. Oladipupo, based in Oyo, southwestern Nigeria, said his company also serves small, energy-intensive businesses, such as those using freezers or pumping water from boreholes.
After solving the problem of high initial costs, the model proved to be a solution to the social problems caused by Nigeria’s energy crisis among underserved and low-income households. 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, “I’m done worrying about lighting,” Qadri said. She has installed a small solar system that powers five light bulbs and a fan, and paying monthly installments is easy for her.
In Nigeria, unlike Kenya, the use of solar energy for industrial purposes is rare. “Not a single one that I know of,” Mohammed Ettu, who runs Makhade Power Solutions in Lagos, said of Nigeria’s large industrial productions that use solar power.
In South Africa, the third largest economy 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, compared to just one megawatt, reducing thus their addiction. on the national grid and promote renewable energy sources. As a result, several companies, including Sibanye Stillwater, Anglo American Platinum and Gold Fields, have announced their intention to produce significant amounts of renewable energy in the short term.
Another example of this change is Ford’s vehicle assembly plant in Silverton, Pretoria, which currently generates 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 was decommissioned in 2022 and will be converted to clean generation with over 150 megawatts of solar power, 70 megawatts of wind power and 150 megawatts of storage batteries.
Amid the current electricity crisis this year, the South African government has offered tax incentives to households and businesses that purchase renewable energy sources and to households that install solar panels on their roofs.
Companies installing renewable energy can reduce their taxable income by 125% of the cost of the investment. Households installing rooftop solar panels will be eligible for a 25% discount on the cost of the panels, up to a maximum of R15,000 (US$779).
In Kenya, despite CP Solar’s focus on industries, the company also does some domestic installations. One is at the home of its director, Shah. This allowed him to be completely off-grid, sparing him a recent nationwide blackout where other Kenya Power and Lighting Company dependents, including the country’s main airport, were left in the dark for decades. hours.
“I was happy at home watching Supersport that day. I think there was a football match coming up,” Shah said.
The high cost of electricity in the country, ranging from 20 to 30 Kenyan shillings per kilowatt-hour ($0.14 to $0.20) also encouraged the change, Shah said.
The abundance of sunlight in Kenya – and in Africa – favors the production of solar energy, which Shah described as a “very lucky” opportunity to have “free energy”.
Adebayo reported from Abuja, Nigeria. Magome reported from Johannesburg, South Africa.
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