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Thursday, March 30, 2017

How off-grid solar energy could connect sub-Saharan Africa

How off-grid solar energy could connect sub-Saharan Africa

Businesses lining the rusty red dirt road of the commercial thoroughfare of Segbwema (pronounced shuh-BOY-ma) in Sierra Leone sell cold Coca-Cola and local ginger ale, their dry goods in the front of shops lit by pairs of large compact fluorescent bulbs. However, there is no grid to provide electricity here. Even in the neighboring city 25 miles away where the grid does reach, it provides only six hours of intermittent electricity during the six-month dry season. 

Until recently, these businesses were powered at a high cost by diesel generators, when they were powered at all. But for the past several months some commercial businesses have been receiving power from a local minigrid, an isolated distribution network powered by solar and battery storage. And it’s not just local businesses that are receiving power; residential customers are connecting to the minigrid, too, and hundreds more will connect over the next few years. This approach not only provides energy access, but also drives economic growth in rural areas, and is being replicated across sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. 

Enthusiasm for the growth of minigrids in Africa and South Asia is shared by young companies looking to provide the hardware, software and services to build them. Commercial investors and energy majors are likewise eyeing the opportunity. Development partners such as the U.K.’s Department for International Development and Germany’s GIZ are committing hundreds of millions of dollars to explore the potential for minigrids and support their growth, and groups such as the Rockefeller Foundation are investing time and money with the goal of speeding economic development. Most promisingly, governments in countries as varied as Tanzania, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are beginning to think about how the off-grid energy provided by minigrids could help them achieve energy access and economic growth targets.

Full story at http://bit.ly/2o2XpJD

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