We have been seeing news stories of innovative decentralized energy practice from African countries recently. Microturbine manufacturer Capstone has announced an order for a 600 kW turbine to burn butane gas and provide electrical power for a small community in Mali, and expects the order to be followed for other communities in West Africa.
Capstone calls the continent a ‘major growth opportunity’ for the company, citing studies which predict that Africa, Asia and the Middle East will be responsible for a growing proportion of global electricity consumption over the next few years.
Meanwhile, Aggreko is providing hybrid solar-diesel power generators for small copper and zinc mines in Eritrea – over a 10-year period the company will install 22 MW of diesel and 7.5 MW of PV generating capacity with remote monitoring telemetry to optimise generating efficiency. Decentralized generation can be a cheaper and more reliable option for both on and off-grid mines in the country, says Aggreko.
Kenya’s Rural Electrification Authority clearly sees advantages on small-scale decentralized technologies as well – it plans to spend $2 billion on 450 new mini-grids powered by solar and other renewables as part of a project to bring power to off-grid parts of the country. Finally, earlier this year the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said it will be funding $4 million-worth of off-grid solar projects in sub-Saharan Africa, helping local solar developers get access to get these projects off the ground.
Could it be that countries with poorly-developed electricity networks are taking a lead in demonstrating new decentralized technologies as part of as wider energy transition? Another manifestation, perhaps, of the model in which many African countries have bypassed centralized telephone networks, never developing them, and moved straight to the advantages of mobile technology?
Decentralized energy has been identified as one of the most important ways to meet the United Nations goal of ending energy poverty by 2030 – only local energy initiatives can reach the rural poor cost-effectively and in a hurry. Diesel-solar hybrid schemes may not be green enough for some, but decentralized generation is the best way to take power to the rural poor and to remote businesses in Africa.