Off-grid solar power comes of age in Kenya


Market penetration of off-grid solar in Kenya has increased ten-fold and is currently estimated at between 25–30 per cent. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Kenya National Electrification Strategy (KNES) launched last month in partnership with the World Bank promises a game-changer.

As the centrepiece of the strategy is the need to address energy poverty in Kenya, by achieving access to electricity for all Kenyans by 2022. The strategy is ground-breaking in its application of geospatial tools to identify least-cost options to electrify households and businesses.

By recognising the key role played by mini-grids and stand-alone solar systems complement to grid densification and extension, KNES highlights the crucial role that decentralised renewable energy solutions play in universal connectivity.

With a target of 35,000 connections through 121 mini-grids and 1.96 million connections as stand-alone solar home systems.

This is good news for stakeholders in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most vibrant off-grid solar markets. According to the Global Off-Grid Solar Market Report: Semi-Annual Sales and Impact Data (January-June 2018) produced by Lighting Global and the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, 519,154 off-grid solar products were sold in Kenya in the half-year period alone, accounting for 34 per cent of all sales in sub-Saharan Africa.

This tremendous success in Kenya is attributed largely to private sector development, government leadership and the contribution of development partners including the World Bank Group. Lighting Global, an initiative of the World Bank Group managed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) with support from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme, started in 2009.

The programme began with the launch of a Lighting Africa pilot in Kenya. At the time, only 23 per cent of Kenyans had access to electricity through the national grid, and distribution was disproportionate at only five per cent in rural areas compared to 50 per cent in urban areas. An estimated 84 per cent of the rural population was using kerosene as their primary energy source for lighting. Market penetration of off-grid solar was virtually nonexistent at 2.2 per cent.

This informed Lighting Africa’s mandate for its inaugural Kenya programme.

In almost a decade, Lighting Africa has registered significant successes in sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya playing a leading role in the transformation of the off-grid solar industry.

Market penetration of off-grid solar in Kenya has increased ten-fold and is currently estimated at between 25–30 per cent.

In July 2017, the Ministry of Energy began its flagship Kenya Off-grid Solar Access Project with $150 million in financing from the World Bank. The project targets 14 underserved counties with off-grid solar mini-grids and stand-alone solar systems.

The project will support private sector participation through two financing instruments — results-based finance and debt — amounting to $42 million exclusively for solar system providers to increase electrification of households.