• Kenya is partnering with the World Bank to construct 136 solar mini-grids for remote areas
• The project plans to connect 1.3 million Kenyans to electricity.
• The use of solar power across sub-Saharan Africa has seen immense growth, with plans underway to boost it further.
On Monday, Kenya’s Minister of Energy and Petroleum Davis Chirchir announced that the country would be setting up 136 solar mini-grids to provide electricity access to places underserved by the national grid.
“The national electricity grid is yet to reach some parts of the country,” said Chircir at a World Bank-sponsored meeting on solar energy.
As of 2020, 71% of Kenya’s population enjoyed access to electricity, making it the country with the 12th highest electricity access on the continent, after Botswana.
However, the disparity between urban and rural areas was significant as the former boasted of 94% electricity access while the latter only had 62.7% electricity access.
The installation of the solar mini-grids, which use batteries and backup generators to generate electricity, is aimed at bridging that gap.
The adoption of off-grid solar power plants has gained traction on the continent in recent years, especially for residential areas which are not connected to the main electricity grids.
According to the World Bank, there are currently over 3,000 solar mini-grids installed across sub-Saharan Africa, a huge jump from just 500 in 2010. There are plans to build another 9,000 in the coming years.
The solar mini-grids are part of a $150 million World Bank-funded project which was greenlit in 2017.
The project, which is now slated to be completed in June, 2023, seeks to connect 1.3 million people in 277,000 households across 14 counties.
The then World Bank Country Director for Kenya Diariétou Gaye shared, “By connecting 1.3 million people to off-grid solar energy, these counties can begin harnessing the fruits of devolution by opening avenues for creation of more businesses and job opportunities.”
Kenya has a high potential for solar power owing to the high irradiation levels present throughout the year. In 2021, it added 120MW of solar power to the grid.
Due to the abundance of sunshine in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank estimates that solar power has the capacity to provide electricity access to 380 million people by 2030.
Currently, the Kenya’s electricity supply primarily comes from geothermal (over 40%) and hydro power sources. In fact, the East African country is the 8th largest geothermal energy producer in the world.
However, the country also has its fair share of heavy fuel oil and diesel-power plants, which it is trying to move away from in favour of cheaper and environmentally sustainable sources.
Geothermal energy generation is only prominent in East Africa. This is due to the Great East African Rift System (EARS) whose eastern branch runs through Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and North-west Tanzania.
The eastern branch provides high enough temperatures for thermal energy generation, however Ethiopia is the only other African country besides Kenya which has developed its geothermal power resource for power supply.
Sources: World Bank, Reuters, International Trade Administration