Decentralised solar energy or the key to rural electrification in Africa?

The development of solar energy in Africa is also being driven by decentralised systems, generally financed and installed by private companies. These solutions consist of solar home systems. This small-scale electricity network, on the scale of a house, is made up of one or more solar panels, inverters and batteries to store the electricity. The clean electricity stored in this way is redistributed on demand to the domestic grid at night or in bad weather.

The distribution of this equipment is facilitated by the pay-as-you-go system, the main method of payment for which is mobile money, a mobile phone banking service available throughout sub-Saharan Africa, even in the most remote areas. Increasingly, solar home systems are being accompanied by other services, including internet and television. This equipment is having a real impact on the electrification of rural areas. Recently, the American company d.light reported that its solar kits had provided access to electricity for 100 million people around the world, most of them in Africa. In addition to solar home systems, some companies supply complementary solar kits, including solar lamps and lanterns.

Mini-grids also help to electrify rural areas. These are small photovoltaic solar power plants with electricity storage systems using batteries or hybrid systems with generators. These installations are equipped with small distribution networks capable of supplying a community or village. Later, if necessary, the mini-grids can even be connected to the central grid. But in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Nuru company is already deploying mini-grids of over 1 MW to supply entire towns, such as Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country (with a population of more than 206 million by 2020, editor’s note), the authorities are banking particularly on mini-grids to implement an ambitious rural electrification project (NEP) supported by the World Bank and the AfDB. As part of this, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is promoting the establishment of solar mini-grid suppliers by setting up a system of performance-based subsidies (PBG).