Kenya prepares to expand solar mini-grids into poorest rural areas

Kenya plans to launch a $150 million project this year to bring solar electricity to markets, schools, shops and homes in poor, off-grid areas without existing power access, officials say. The effort, expected to receive World Bank funding in March, would bring mini-grid solar plants to areas of 14 counties categorised by Kenya’s government as marginalised, according to World Bank documents.Such off-grid systems are the cleanest and most cost-effective way to bring electrical power to poor areas, particularly those sparsely populated, Kenyan officials said.Solar photovoltaics and mini-grids are the most effective way of supplying power to settlements with 300 to 400 inhabitants, and Kenya is one of the best prepared countries in Africa in providing such solutions,” said Pavel Oimeke, the director of renewable energy at Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission.The country has more than 400 registered companies that can fulfil solar energy contracts, and more than 300 technicians trained and approved by the government to support the systems, Oimeke said. Under the new project, solar mini-grids would be used to supply market centers, community facilities, and some households, according to planning documents. In more isolated areas, households would be equipped with home solar systems. New solar power capacity also would be used to pump water to supply homes and fields. “Evidence suggests that PV (photovoltaic) powered water pumping significantly reduces the cost of water extraction through lower operational and maintenance costs,” a World Bank project document noted. As part of the planned project, schools would get new solar-powered borehole wells while some communities would be equipped with water systems powered by solar pumps. Existing diesel-powered pumping systems would be retrofitted with hybrid solar systems, according to planning documents. The plan also provides for technical assistance and training to help make the scheme more sustainable. Rabia Ferroukhi, head of policy at the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation based in Abu Dhabi, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she believes the time has come for a paradigm shift in how off-grid systems are deployed, focusing less on power generation and more on using them to support jobs and incomes.That would help them make a greater contribution to achieving the sustainable development goals, she said. Using solar electricity to power irrigation pumps, process harvests and create cold storage could transform rural lives by providing better crop yields, higher incomes and a reduction in drudge work, she said. “By linking mini-grid supply with productive uses such as agriculture, rural industries, market centres (and) schools, the socio-economic impacts can be maximised which in turn improves the ability of consumers to afford energy supply,” Ferroukhi said.

 Jan 16, 2017
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