Renewable energy is essential to development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, over 600 million people in Africa have no access to energy, with average electricity grid access a mere 20%. In addition, a mere seven countries on the continent have electrification rates exceeding 50%.
Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, Head, Energy and Climate Division at the University of Southhampton, was invited to the PEI Spotlight Seminar to talk about his team’s research on the ability of mini-grids to provide reliable electricity and their integration into villages across Africa.
Funded by the Research Council and DFID, the Energy for Development programme provides solar photovoltaic mini-grids to isolated villages for power supply and to invigorate rural communities. AbuBakr also noted that the programme manages six mini-grid projects based on solar photovoltaic across Kenya, Uganda, and Cameroon with an installed capacity of 68.4kWp. AbuBakr stressed that the projects were designed around the needs of individual communities, with PV installed on a canopy to create a shaded meeting place. He also noted that the projects’ business models are community-based, rather than commercial. By placing connections in buildings around the mini-grids, community members actually assist with the running of the project. Furthermore, the project has provided managerial and technical training to involved community members, and a cooperative was set up to run the projects, collect membership fees and income from the sale of power and water. AbuBakr noted that the projects have truly invigorated the villages, as increased electricity has enhanced the provision of healthcare and increased commercial activity. He encouraged other renewable energy project leaders to pursue a people-centric approach by understanding and engaging with local communities.