Hello, is energy there? In Kenya electricity comes from mobiles

Published on Wednesday, 3 August 2016

“75% of the over 44 million inhabitants of Kenya lacks stable access to electricity, but more than 70% own a mobile phone.”

There has been no development of power plants and grids to cover the more than 580,000 square kilometre surface. Over the twentieth century a huge gap was created between the need for electricity and the widespread diffusion of lines and facilities: regions and cities that are distant from the coast and from the capital Nairobi actually live in the dark.

However, Kenya's mobile telephony network has experienced a real boom starting from the 2000s, reaching diffusion rates that are higher than those of some industrialised countries. This infrastructure is less expensive to build than that of fixed telephony and it can be installed more quickly than the trusses and pylons that convey electricity.

The shortcut of innovation

Bringing the power grid to the county of Kisii, over 300 kilometres from Nairobi, would require years of work and considerable investments. Just like what would be required to build plants that are capable of meeting the hunger for energy in this region.

We chose an alternative path in order to beat time, a short cut made possible by innovation and collaboration with local communities.

“We are overcoming the limitations of electricity infrastructure by combining the spread of the mobile phone network, the sustainability of renewable resources and the benefits of smart technologies”

Energy independence day

We are building small solar PV fields at the Kisii villages, which we integrate with energy storage equipment. We connect it all to people's homes through independent small electricity grids.

We are training local personnel so the villages can become totally self-sufficient and we avoid their having to rely on diesel-powered generators for electricity production.

“The inhabitants of the Kisii county can rely on a 240V AC power supply that lights up their homes, gives energy to household appliances and charges mobile phones”

The houses, small schools and local medical dispensaries are entering a new world. Without electricity it would not be possible, for example, to power refrigerators where medicines and foods are stored, or to study after the sun has set.

What is the role of mobile phones in all this? They are the last component of a project that is turning the county of Kisii into a real model of sustainable development which can be exported all over the country.

Mobile phones allow people to pay the energy they consume through the mobile network. Every village, with its micro-grid, becomes a sort of independent power company, a local mini-utility company open to people who benefit from it and set it up, at the same time.