Things around the world are looking a little bit brighter thanks to off-grid solar technologies. They are, for example, allowing those in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast to get clean electricity for notably less than keeping a generator on hand and the monthly cost is deducted from customers’ mobile phone air times.
Africa, of course, has 600 million people without access to electricity. Nigeria has 73 million of those and the Ivory Coast has 12 million of them. And even those that have some connection to a local grid can’t get reliable electricity. To complicate matters, the population is expanding much faster than the grids, which means that many homes have relied on kerosene, generators and torches to create light. What will small, distributed solar systems mean for Africa’s emerging economies?
“At this point, we are barely scraping the surface,” says Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Lumos that is the largest provider of off-grid solar in Nigeria, in an interview with this writer. “We have 100,000 customers, who are receiving electricity for significantly cheaper than running a generator: they were paying $70 a month to fuel their generators but now they pay $15 a month for off-grid solar, which does not include the $40 start up fee.”
Lumos, he adds, is looking to supply solar power to 100 million people in the next 5-7 years. That equates to 10% of the people who currently don’t have any power in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, the company will install a solar panel and the necessary cables, which encompasses a storage device, or box.
To that end, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. said in its 2018 annual report that it is committed to investing $1 billion in Africa over the next three years. To date, the lender has supported construction of 20 utility-scale power plants and off-grid renewable power projects in Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.