Solar Kits Help Off-grid Communities in Africa Dump Diesel

African Solar Power

By James Noble

September 18, 2014

One in five people on Earth do not have access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. In Africa, that number is 58 percent. In Tanzania, where 86 percent of the population has no electricity, the notion that villages will someday connect to the grid is considered a joke.

Tanzania is predominately rural, with small villages scattered across vast stretches of terrain. The state-owned utility is urban-focused and chronically strapped for cash.

But just as mobile phones dramatically reduced the need for telephone landlines in rural corners of the planet, advances and declining costs in solar power may allow thousands of rural Africans the opportunity to leapfrog the electrical grid with access to power for their homes, Mother Jones magazine reports.

Small solar kits, which at about $400 cost less than a year's worth of diesel fuel, come complete with the necessary panels, wiring, power converters and batteries, and provide enough power to run several light bulbs and a small appliance.

Even more impressive, the African clean tech boom is happening in spite of the fact that Africa and the Middle East attracted only 4 per cent of the world’s renewable energy investment in 2013, a sum of $9 billion. In contrast, China received $56 billion last year, more than a quarter of the global total.

Canada contains about 175 off-grid communities. Most of these communities, like most African villages, generate electricity with diesel generators. While diesel-fuelled generators are generally reliable when properly maintained, the costs and environmental impact can be significant. In subsistence communities, even a moderate bump in fuel prices can have enormous consequences.

Many of Canada's remote communities have access to renewable energy resources such as small hydro, biomass, wind and solar. As these communities continue to rely on fossil fuels, they might also look to places like Tanzania to see how local energy resources can benefit rural areas, far from the grid.