Solar Power and Mini-Grids, Energy for Africa

Published on Thursday, 14 January 2016

Sub-Saharan Africa is in great need of energy. As mush as 13 percent of the world’s population lives in this area, but more than half (over 600 million people) live without access to electricity. According to the McKinsey report ‘Powering Africa’, only seven countries south of the Sahara (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa) have an electrification rate that is greater than 50 percent, while in the rest of the region, the average rate is only 20 percent.

The lack of access to electricity hinders economic growth and raises sustainability issues, forcing communities to use polluting energy sources to cook food – an issue that has been the focus of Expo Milano 2015. Africa played a leading role for the first time in the history of World Expositions, thanks to its broad representation of countries (nearly 30 percent of the total participants) and its rich agricultural and culinary traditions, leading to a multitude of initiatives that are ready to meet the challenge of sustainable growth in every area, from food to energy.

Today, Sub-Saharan Africa consumes less power than Brazil, but according to McKinsey estimates, by 2040 electricity consumption will reach nearly 1,600 terawatt hours, equal to four times the energy consumption of Latin America and India on 2010.

In order to promote development and ensure sustainable growth in terms of energy demand in such an important area, the Enel Group is developing several projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly in Kenya, through its subsidiary Enel Green Power. The goal is to bring innovation and the benefits of renewable energy to this area.

The Group’s collaboration with the US company Powerhive Inc is a step in this direction, with investments of around 12 million US dollars over the course of 2016, of which 93% provided by Enel Green Power and 7% by Powerhive. The goal is to build and operate mini-grids in 100 villages in Kenya. In other words, small networks powered by renewable energy to distribute electricity.

The project, which was developed in collaboration with Powerhive, consists of a portfolio of solar mini-grids with a total installed capacity of 1 MW, to be built in Western Kenya in the counties of Kisii and Nyamira. The technology will bring zero-emission clean energy to 20,000 households, small businesses, schools, and healthcare centres, thus powering and connecting nearly 90,000 people to the grid. The integration of mini-grids with energy storage facilities will allow this system to balance supply and demand, thus reducing volatility and offset variations in customer loads, as well as unpredictable fluctuations in power generation, which are intrinsic when producing power from renewable sources.

In line with our commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, as a Group, we are implementing a broad strategy of off-grid electrification, to bring electricity and shared value to the communities in which we operate through several projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

In Africa, we have recently begun a collaboration with Elettrici senza frontiere, a non-profit organisation that is mostly composed of volunteers from the electricity sector, in order to support development, emergency and post-emergency initiatives for communities in rural and disadvantaged areas. The first planned project will be carried out next spring and will involve two villages in the highlands north of Nairobi in Kenya, inhabited by the Masai people. The villages will be provided with electricity through the installation of PV panels and small autonomous street lighting systems with LED lights, mobile phone and battery recharging stations, as well as energy saving light bulbs.

In October, we launched the second phase of the project Powering Education as part of Expo 2015. Together with Enel Green Power and Enel Foundation, we are working alongside the social enterprise Givewatts and the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum to distribute solar-powered lamps to hundreds of school-aged students through schools and other institutions. The efficient lamps, which replace kerosene lighting, allow children to study after dark and their families to reduce energy costs and pollution. Thanks to Powering Education, so far over 1,100 solar lamps have been distributed in 70 rural villages that are not served by distribution networks, providing sustainable and safe access to electricity to more than 5,500 people.