Last year at COP26, Husk Power Systems, a Colorado-based company that installs off-grid power systems in the developing world, signed an UN-Energy Compact, committing to deploying 5,000 clean mini-grids to Sub-Saharan Africa.
Through the plan, Husk aims to provide 2 million people with energy access in Nigeria. All 500 will be in
stalled over the next four years, and by 2026, there will be 400,000 new grid connections, according to Energy Monitor.
Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa rely on diesel to fuel generators to provide electricity for their daily lives.
In May, the continent began facing significant fuel shortages primarily due to escalating fuel prices. Africa’s diesel generator economy is chiefly a result of insufficient centralized energy grid development, leaving people drastically unserved or underserved in terms of reliable energy.
At least 17 African countries generate more electricity from distributed diesel than from centralized power grids, according to Wood Mackenzie, leaving communities already facing the brunt of climate change more vulnerable to days without power.
As the world’s renewable energy sources become more cost-competitive, solar mini-grids may be one answer to this problem. As identified by The World Bank, solar mini-grids are the most cost-effective way to provide rural electrification for 500 million people.
“Power is the first building block for sustainable development, unlocking health care, education, better mobility,” Olu Aruike, Husk’s country manager in Nigeria, told Grist.
Nearly 90 million Nigerians currently live without electricity. Despite being Africa’s largest economy, the energy gap persists. But Husk believes that with its low-cost microgrids, they are one of the most promising solutions. Diesel is not only expensive but also polluting. Expanding solar mini-grids presents an opportunity to slash emissions while electrifying the region. Through microgrid expansion, Husk expects to eliminate the need for at least 25,000 diesel or gasoline generators. Savings from switching could be reinvested into communities, William Brent, Husk’s chief marketing officer told Grist.
These microgrids alone won’t allow Nigeria to achieve its national goal of universal energy access by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2060, but it could be a large step towards it. According to Aruike, microgrids — along with parallel efforts to expand rooftop solar and invest in domestic solar manufacturing — represent a “big opportunity” to advance decarbonization and “ensure that people are pulled out of energy poverty.”
Husk Power isn’t alone in its mission to sustainably electrify Africa.
As reported by Bloomberg, Africa’s top renewable firm may raise $4 billion to boost scale with targets for wind, solar, and hydropower across the continent.
Lekela Power, Africa’s largest renewable power company, was recently bought by Africa Finance Corp. and Egypt’s Infinity Group. In the agreement, the two firms are seeking between $2.5 billion and $4 billion from capital markets over the next four years, Samaila Zubairu, AFC’s chief executive officer and president told Bloomberg.
The duo is hoping to further increase electricity across Africa through the provision of renewable energy from abundant solar and wind resources. “The best way for Africa to benefit is to first take ownership of its own strategy,” Zubairu said. “Access to energy is a big challenge in Africa. This platform, this acquisition, gives us an opportunity to pursue these opportunities at scale.”
Once the deal is complete, AFC and Infinity will combine their renewable assets into a new yet-to-be-named entity. The potential solar, wind and hydro projects will span across Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Nigeria. Much of the money needed could come from development finance institutions AFC has previously worked with such as France’s Proparco, Germany’s KFW Group and the US International Development Finance Corp.
One of AFC’s biggest goals is to cut the continent’s reliance on charcoal and firewood for cooking fuel to reduce deforestation and air pollution. It's a practice that kills millions of Africans every year.
“The easiest way to keep trees in the ground is liquefied petroleum gas,” Zubairu said. “Harnessing flared gas which contributes to carbon emissions, and converting that to LPG is a win-win for both the climate and for Africans. We are looking at investment in that space.”
Husk Power Systems and the deal with Africa Finance Corp. and Egypt’s Infinity Group are only two examples of a larger movement to electrify Africa while decarbonizing the continent in the process.
Other recent examples include Angola’s series of laws aiming to improve electrification while reducing emissions in the oil, gas and related sub-sectors, and South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) program. Since the implementation of the program, independent power producers in South Africa have started ninety-five renewable energy projects, achieving an estimated capacity of 3.27 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy once the projects reach full operation.
On a much larger scale, renewable energy, led by hydroelectricity, supplies 90 percent of Kenya’s power, and the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power project in Zambia and Zimbabwe provides 2.4 GW of electricity to the countries, with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam providing 6.45 GW.
Turning these examples into continent-wide reality is possible. Solar microgrids and actions by renewable firms and private projects may help reach that goal.