Off-grid electricity could help plug Africa’s rural power crunch

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Original article published on | 23 May 2016

A combination of renewable energy sources off the national grids could be a solution to supplying electricity to rural areas across Africa, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) showed on Monday.

An estimated 643 million people are living without electricity on the continent, with 80% of those living in rural areas, and many of them could buy electricity locally and pay using mobile money transfers, PwC said in its report.

With year-round sunshine and thousands of miles of windswept coasts, investors are warming to the renewable energy potential.

“It is clear that grid extensions can’t be seen as the sole, or even the primary, answer to provision of the electricity for all,” the report presented at a conference in Johannesburg said.

Power & Utility Specialist for PwC Africa, Angeli Hoekstra said people could use their cellular phones to pay for power.

“We need to get out of the top down mindset that everything needs to happen through grid-extensions,” said Hoekstra.

Off-grid solutions cost between $10 to over $300 and include standalone power systems such as portable lights, solar panels installed at homes or microgrid companies that generate electricity from diesel or wind.

These developments in electrification beyond national grids would need to be supported by governments, as has happened in countries such as India and Chile, helping to light up homes in rural villages that previously had no electricity.

Chronic power shortages are one of the biggest brakes on growth in Africa, where from Nigeria in the west to Kenya in the east, a dearth of electricity or regular blackouts strangle industries from manufacturing to tea factories.

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