Africa Finds Power Off the Grid
But recently those in areas without electricity are taking advantage of an alternative to traditional electric hookups that could help solve Africa’s power problem: off-grid solar home systems, which electrify houses with a battery-connected rooftop panel.
Though the technology is not new, it’s becoming more popular in the region following a steep decline in the cost of photovoltaic panels and the rising efficiency of LED lights and appliances. More than a dozen firms offering these systems on a pay-as-you-go basis are now operating in Africa.
Proponents say pay-as-you go home solar has important advantages over other options. These systems can be deployed immediately and don’t cloud rooms with fumes like kerosene lanterns do (such lanterns remain widely used by the two-thirds of sub-Saharan African households without electricity). They are also immune to the power outages that frequently befuddle those with a grid connection.
They are economical as well. In Kenya, the national utility charges customers 15,000 shillings ($150) for a new connection. Its own per-connection cost is 10 times higher. Customers pay monthly bills thereafter, while these off-grid systems deliver light without a monthly charge once the initial investment is paid off.