Solar Africa: a look at the projects electrifying the continent


645 million Africans currently live without electricity. And yet each year, the sun provides over 2,000 kWh/m2 to Africa (1). The arrival of microgrids and low-cost photovoltaic solutions devised by a new generation of entrepreneurs could change the situation, and help Africa to emerge from the lack of electricity that is slowing down its development.


A wealth of sunlight

Last year IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, estimated that the development of green energies could cover up to 22% of Africa’s electricity needs by 2030 (2). The sun has a decisive role to play in these electrification plans. Not only does it now cost less to harness its energy, but the innovations that have recently boosted the sector have brought a whole range of inexpensive photovoltaic installations onto the market – ones that even the least well-off households can afford.


One of the most important low-cost solar energy players in Africa is the Kenyan company M-KOPA Solar, founded in 2012 by Jesse Moore. Based in Nairobi, it provides energy kits to over 280,000 households throughout the country, and in Tanzania and Uganda as well. M-Kopa provides lighting for 4,000 new households each day, and has established itself as Africa’s leader in « pay as you go » energy. Its offering consists of a solar sensor costing 35 dollars, and an annual subscription that comes out at 43 cents a day, which can be paid by mobile. This system is well on the way to replacing the ruinous, pollutant generators currently found in houses. In rural areas, Douglas Dullo’s start-up, One Degree Solar, with its solar batteries for mobile phones is in the process of changing the daily lives of thousands of Kenyans, providing up to 8 hours of autonomy and Internet connection…

Lighting Africa

Solar energy also has its patrons. This year, the famous Senegalese-American rap artist Akon visited 15 or so countries to promote an investment plan of one billion dollars designed to provide electricity to African homes. « Akon Lighting Africa » has already made it possible to install 100,000 street lights and 102,000 domestic solar kits in 480 locations throughout the continent. But the rapper’s ambition doesn’t stop there. He has also opened an engineering school in Bamako, which will train 500 students in solar technologies each year.

An industrial challenge

The electrification challenge is also attracting foreign companies. Hivepower, a Californian microgrid manufacturer, has begun to open up Kenya’s rural regions. Microgrids are micro photovoltaic or hybrid electricity networks designed to take over from the national grid when it breaks down. Microgrids have their own means of production, storage and distribution. They can thus function as independent units and meet the electricity requirements of small communities like schools, farms or entire villages.

Drones in the sticks

Some villages are so isolated that cunning solutions are needed to route equipment to its destination. To distribute its microgrids, Mobisol, a Tanzania-based German company, has launched a delivery program using solar-powered drones. For a remuneration, Mobisol subscribers can post small charging stations on their roofs, enabling drones to charge up at each stage in their itinerary.

Mobile energy

Nor are French entrepreneurs lagging behind. Alexandre Castel is the founder of Station Energy, a company that builds mobile, self-powered multishops in Abidjan. The structures consist of containers equipped with solar batteries, so that shopkeepers can connect all kinds of equipment into their stores, such as LED lights, Wi-Fi terminals, refrigerators and vending machines. To help his customers finance their projects, Alexandre Castel has also launched SunCities, a crowdfunding platform.

A place on the equator…

The latest radiant example in this rapid initiative safari, the Kayoola is the first solar powered bus to criss-cross the roads of Africa. Launched in February in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, this totally autonomous vehicle was developed by the company Kiira Motors with government financing, and can carry up to 35 people.


(1) According to the database SolarGIS, which draws up a map of the regions of the world according to their solar irradiation, Africa has 320 days of sunlight each year.

(2) Africa 2030 report on the energy transition in Africa, Irena, 05/10/2015.

Photo © Pixabay

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