Off-Grid solutions can drive Universal Electricity Access

Access to electricity plays a prominent and catalytic role in economic development

In Summary
  • Access to electricity can increase household income per capita by 39 percent, according to the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Lack of access to electricity is widely debated as being a major hindrance to development in Africa.
Electricity cables.
BLACKOUTS: Electricity cables.
Image: FILE

Electricity access is a crucial component of economic development and past discussions on this forum clearly point to that.

The Rockefeller Foundation in 2015 indicated that access to electricity can arguably increase household income per capita by 39 percent. While the statistics may be subject to challenge, it is clear, through the vast body of research conducted on the link between electricity access and economic growth, that access to electricity plays a prominent and catalytic role in economic development.

Lack of access to electricity is widely viewed as a major hindrance to development in Africa, with an estimated 600 million people lacking access to the 21st century basic need. According to analysts, inadequate infrastructure in Africa, of which power infrastructure performs a crucial role, greatly hampers economic activity, curtails efficiency, and impedes effective competition.

In response to this challenge, Kenya has channelled resources toward ensuring that universal electricity connectivity is achieved by 2020. To this effect, Kenya Power notes that as at 2018, household connections to the national grid stood at 73 per cent of the national coverage, placing the firm on track to achieve the targeted 95 per cent connectivity by 2020.

In its pursuit of the above, the power vendor has favours on-grid solutions over off-grid solutions. On-grid solutions require the extension of the national grid, and ensure that homes are connected directly to the national grid. This requires extensive and costly development as transmission and distribution lines are canvassed across Kenya.

However, despite the on-grid focus, the Rural Electrification Authority has proposed plans to utilise off-grid solutions to power areas that are considered too far off from the existing network. The aim here is to ensure that areas not on the grid network also have access to electricity as the grid network is extended, a time consuming initiative.

Counties considered off the grid, particularly Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana and Garissa have been earmarked as recipients of off-grid power through solar mini-grids. Further, plans are underway to construct a 55MW solar power plant in Garissa which will take advantage of the sunshine experienced in the county. This power plant will initially serve Garissa County but further plans are underway to feed this power to the National Grid.

Here lies the allure of off-grid electricity solutions. Not only do they take advantage of the renewable energy sources available to Kenya, such as solar and wind, but further, should they be designed with universal grid network penetration in mind, they can easily be connected to the grid network at a future date. This ensures that access to electricity is prioritised in the short term, whilst opening up the possibility of expanding the country’s generational capacity in the long run.