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Off the Grid Solar in Africa

image credit: ID 12159812 © Holger Karius |

According to the World Bank, Africa’s GDP in 2019 is expected to 3.4%. In some countries, however, it will be much higher. Ethiopia, for example, has a red hot economy right now and I recently read that the Ivory Coast’s GDP should eclipse 6% growth this year. Yet throughout the region growth is dogged by shotty infrastructure. Reliable grid connection is one of the biggest problems. 

A couple weeks ago, I pondered whether innovative new griddless systems would lead to more investment and greater growth in the global south. I highlighted the Rolls Royce Series 4000, a 16 cylinder natural gas beast that’s capable of pumping out up to 2,500 kW. The 4000 had recently been adopted by a pork processing plant in Puebla, Mexico. This week I came across more related content, an article in forbes about off the grid solar in Africa and its potential impact on the continent’s economy. 

According to author Ken Silverstein, there are 600 million Africans without access to electricity right now. What’s more, even those who have grid connections can’t really rely on them, since blackouts are such a pervasive problem. To mitigate the problem, households rely on things like fire, generators and kerosene. 

Luckily, some companies are providing affordable, off the grid solar systems. One of those companies is Lumos, the largest such provider in Nigeria. They currently have about 100 thousand customers who each pay around $15 a month in addition to a $40 startup fee. The company has big ambitions, though. They hope to supply solar to 100 million people in the next half decade. 

Lumos’ solar service, and others like it, are certainly a net positive for the region. However, I suspect they are no replacement for comprehensive, reliable grid systems. The problem, of course, is how to build those in cash-strapped nations with bad roads and tons of public graft. One belt one road?

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 23, 2019 7:39 pm GMT

Lumos’ solar service, and others like it, are certainly a net positive for the region. However, I suspect they are no replacement for comprehensive, reliable grid systems. 

This is great framing, and I would say it's important to say you can support both initiatives. The benefit of off the grid solar is that it can be implemented more quickly and immediately to offer respite in the short term and provide an increase to quality of life today, whereas the comprehensive grid is a longer term solution that must be included as well-- but with projects so large will take many years to get actually implemented. Taken together, these can be two sides of a great energy reinvigoration coin

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