Access to Renewable Energy Transforms Lives in Africa

(Tuala, Kenya) In a strategically placed location, Caroline Anyango, a 32-year-old mother of three, runs a small business of cooking and selling chapati. She sets up her table and a rechargeable solar lamp, hanging it on the wall outside her house in a busy roadside in Tuala, 30 kilometres west of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

Every day, Caroline wakes up at 5.00am, when it still dark, and lights her solar power lamp. It is peak hours for her business during this period.

This is usually the time people have breakfast. “Many people are already up and going to work, so it is timely for my business,” she says. Solar power enables Caroline to get everything ready for her customers: “I don’t have to wait until it’s dawn, I light up the lamp and start opening my business as early as possible.”

More than 2.2 billion people and millions of businesses worldwide don’t have access to reliable power. Frequent power outages undermine productivity and development. The World Bank says that African countries face regular power black outs, with outages lasting from 50 hours to 4,600 hours each, equalling up to 8,760 hours in a year.

But Caroline is already reaping the benefits from verified renewable energy technology, as well as meeting her domestic energy needs in a cost-effective, secure and environmentally sustainable manner.

“This isn’t like the kerosene lamp, which filled the house with smoke and meant that you spent a lot of money buying kerosene every day,” she notes.

Africa has an estimated population of more than 1.3 billion, and a population growth rate of two percent. Meeting the needs of the growing population means meeting the huge demand for jobs and food production. Therefore, there is also an exponential need for energy to drive these emerging economies, of which many are locally based Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that account for 90 % of all business in Africa.

Allen Dennis, a Senior Economist with the Development Economics Prospects Group at the World Bank, says that small and growing business contributes up to 80% of the continent’s employment.

“Access to affordable energy in rural areas accelerates the adoption of new technologies, linking markets and new value chains that allow growth of small-scalebusiness,” Dennis added.

The availability of affordable energy is a golden pillar that drives all Sustainable Development Goals, notably enabling many households in rural Africa to increase their productivity whilst also earning a sustainable livelihood. Caroline explains that with the help of solar, she can save 800 Kenyan Shillings (roughly 8 USD) a week that was previously used to buy kerosene. “I wake up very early to make an extra 200 shillings (2 USD) every morning. I also save money because now I don’t buy kerosene,” she says.

Fossil fuels are unsustainable and expensive, as well as a source of pollution to the environment. Investing in renewable energy improves energy security, on top of enhancing access and mitigating climate change.

The United Nations Development Programme’s State of Electricity Access Report of 2017 shows that the global investment in renewable energy has more than doubled the investments in conventional energy sources since 2015.

In December 2018, at the Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland, the UK announced its support of £100 million for up to 40 renewable energy projects across Africa over the next five years. This helps improve access to clean energy, cut carbon emissions and support energy and job creation.

Juan Casla Urteaga is a policy officer at the European Commission. He notes that 35 % of the grant is being used to guarantee those keen in expanding the production of renewable energy in Africa. This reduces the continent’s carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency. “The renewable energy sector will enable many people to access energy, develop new skills, and unlock entrepreneurship. This brings a potential of creating 12,000 new jobs,” he says.

The sudden interest in renewable energy production is largely due to its cost-effectiveness, which makes it all-the-more beneficial for those in rural Africa. Localised plans to meet energy needs at a village or community level has also created a number of job opportunities in the community.

Leonard Kiprotich is among those with a job in the renewable energy sector, and has been working in rural Kenya distributing and installing solar panels. “I didn’t have anything else to do when I finished school. I got an opportunity to work with a solar company as their distributor and technician,” he said.

In Chad, 25,000 micro entrepreneurs are being trained thanks to renewable energy. Solar-based energy systems are being set up in 40 villages in Mauritania and 309 villages in Mali, according to the UNDP.

The Kenyan government is also expanding their investment in renewable energy. The World Bank is funding a $150 million solar power project, as well as providing clean cooking stoves to roughly 1.3 million people.

Ashden is a UK based charity that champions sustainable energy solutions both in the UK and around the world. They hold the annual Ashden Awards, wherein several sustainable energy investment projects are proposed, and the winning two are invested in. Zambia and Kenya were the winners this year.

Ashden CEO, Harriet Lamb, said: “The outstanding organisations that make up our 2019 roster can give us all hope: we have the solutions to the climate emergency, solutions that are working already and just need scaling even further. In particular, financial innovation and commitment must be an integral part of ensuring these solutions are sustainable – and that is just what our 2019 winner is showcasing. Others should come and steal their model and their ideas with pride!”