At least a hundred and ten million of the 600 million people without access to electricity in Africa lives in urban areas. Most are within a stone throw from existing power system infrastructure.
In Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Liberia alone there are up to 95 million people living in urban areas. all in close proximity to the grid.
In kenya about 70th of off-grid homes are located within 1.2km of a power line. And estimates for “under-the-grid” populations across sub-saharan africa range from 61 to 78.
Besides energy access being crucial for several basic human wants, these disadvantage populations represent a massive commercial opportunity for cash-strapped sub-saharan African utilities. Electricity suppliers may reach tens of several densely packed customers with longer-mile rural grid extension.
So, why are not these potential consumers connected to the formal grid?
Urban communities usually face several challenges in getting electricity access. These vary from the prohibitively high cost of a connection, to the challenges of informal housing, the impact of power theft on services and socio-political marginalization. In several cases, these obstacles are tough to address successfully.
However, recent advances in distributed renewable energy technologies mean a more cost-effective, quicker to deploy, cleaner alternative is at hand in Africa. One that can step in where policy and utility reforms are wanting.
Barriers to grid connections
One of the major barriers to electrification is the cost of a grid connection. A grid connection in kenya, for example, is estimated at USD $400 per house. this is nearly one-third of the average per capita income of a Kenyan.
Beyond pure cost barriers, urban communities usually cannot access energy services for alternative socio-economic reasons. for instance, not being metered because they do not have a proper address. Or living in in a vicinity that’s tough to service – like close to flood plains or in informal housing settlements.
Corruption among electricity service suppliers, power theft by customers and the the establishment of electricity cartels also complicates and limits electricity access.
Finally, the utilities themselves face many challenges in implementing reforms to get a lot of individuals connected.
Take the instance of the kenya Power and Lighting Company, which owns and operates most of the electricity transmission and distribution system.
In 2015 it introduced a subsidized connection fee of us $150. This was done through the last mile connectivity Project. In one year, this installment-based payment plan led to a 30-fold increase in legal electricity connections in impoverished neighbourhoods.
But the project was marred by cost overruns and inflated and misreported new connection numbers. On top of this, newly connected households usually have terribly low consumption levels and low-income customers were usually unable to make payments, even at subsidized rates.
Without the necessary infrastructural development, specialists argue that the program puts a strain on the technical, commercial and financial resources of the utility. this means that the programme may find it difficult to generate revenue, recover costs or provide the service intended to new customers.
Decentralised renewable energy technologies provide a very important answer for “under-the-grid” electrification. they’re easy, quick and agile. they need short installation times, and provide a reliable electricity service for informal settlements.
Pay-as-you-go solar systems and appliances, as an instance, can provide a much lower barrier to entry. Compared to the high upfront connection costs noted earlier in kenya, a 15-watt solar home system costs on the average USD $9 per month for 36 months after which point the household owns its system.
The renewable energy sector recognises this under-the-grid market. In fact, about 35th of solar lighting product sales in kenya area unit created in peri-urban areas.
And it is a sensible bet. proof shows that the disposition to get localised renewables is way more than a grid affiliation as a result of they’re seen as more reliable.
Policies to support decentralised technologies include: integrated energy planning that incorporates these solutions, adopting and implementing product quality control standards and providing monetary incentives – like reduced import duties for products or local loan and grant programs.
These solutions show that with the right approach, and easy innovations, Africa’s prospective urban customers will finally get access to electricity.
Ben Attia, a research consultant with Greentech Media