One Year Later: Solar Activity in Africa Takes Off

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East Africa: Spate of New Investments in East Africa's Solar Energy

Every day, at her stall where she makes and sells French fries in Kawangware, a low-income estate west of Nairobi, Jane Mmbone charges her solar panel using the sun's rays.

The panel is connected to a battery which transmits energy to light bulbs via one of four ports. Two ports on the other side of the battery help in charging the panel and gadgets such as phones and torches.

Thanks to the system, Mmbone has discarded kerosene as an energy source for lighting, saving her about $15 a month. This is significant for a woman who makes just about Ksh7,000 ($67.8) per month.

Many low income earners in Kenya like Mmbone cannot afford the cost electricity which requires a one-off payment of Ksh15,000 ($145.3) for a connection to the national grid plus monthly payments based on usage.

The situation is the same for other low income earners across East Africa, making the region a lucrative market for investments in alternative sources of power. Regional and international firms as well as governments are shifting focus to clean, renewable energy.

Jesse Moore, M-Kopa Solar founder and managing director for example, estimates that the market for solar energy in the three countries is 20 million people.

So far, the company has connected more than 250,000 homes in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, with the hope of reaching one million customers by 2018.

Two weeks ago, Solar Green Renewable Energy of London and Questworks, a consultancy firm in Kenya signed an agreement to develop small-scale solar panel electricity systems -- photovoltaics (PV) -- of an average 5MW. The systems can light up houses and buildings and charge electronic appliances.

"Since May 2011, Solar Green has been analysing the market trends for renewable energy and other projects in Kenya. Signature projects are in the pipeline in Western and Rift Valley," said Solar Green officials in an e-mail.

Questworks on the other hand constructed the largest solar PV roof project in Africa at Strathmore University Nairobi at a cost of $1.3 million last year, supplying 75 per cent of the school's energy needs.

Solar field

Last month, American energy company SkyPower also announced that it would double the $2.2 billion it agreed to invest in Kenya to develop solar power.

In Rwanda, Gigawatt Global Company is establishing a $23.7 million solar field, the first of its kind in the region. The field is made up of 28,360 PV panels on a 20-hectare (50 acres) piece of land.

The field is now supplying 6 per cent of Rwanda's power needs, and will be harnessing the sun's light for 25 years according to the power purchase agreement. Gigawatt Global also plans to establish a 7.5 MW plant in Burundi.

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