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PROJECT: Testing synergies in distributed renewable village power in Africa


Project Reference: AAGL-0047b

Rural Africa has a chronic lack of power inhibiting development and income growth, with roughly  80% of rural populations having no access to electricity. However low population densities and low purchasing power precludes a viable extension of the grid. The success of the cell phone network has necessitated the use of very inefficient diesel generators to power towers in off-grid communities, which add substantially to CO2 emissions and local noise pollution.

Although renewable power systems have been developed and tested in Africa, no-one has created a viable business model to provide remote off-grid community power in Africa without subsidies. Most solutions are based on mini-grid sharing power between users. This top-down approach implies building an “over-sized” power system (plus additional 25% costs of wiring the mini-grid) and waiting for the customer base to grow to use the available power. With low utilisation factors such models require subsidies to deliver affordable power to the poorest sections of community.

CDKN’s Business Partnership project in sub-Saharan Africa aimed to address this by proving the viability of a distributed village power model. It tested the cost model for providing renewable power to a pilot village and demonstrating progress towards raising further funds to create an off-grid rural power company. To achieve this CDKN worked with Africa Power, an independent provider of power systems in rural areas of emerging economies; Sunflower Pump; and Sincronicity Power, which installs and maintains power systems for cell-phone towers.

The project was designed to demonstrate the viability of building a renewable energy mini-grid system from the bottom up; installing distributed power systems, sized to the specific power needs, and connecting systems (where synergies exist) to create the most efficient model for the village. It has also generated lessons on cost structure, business planning, and barriers for providing village power to off-grid rural communities.

The project deployed the following power systems in one pilot location:

  • Renewable energy power system to power a village cell phone tower,
  • A solar powered drip-irrigation system, capable of irrigating 40 small-holdings, and
  • Two hundred solar household power systems providing lighting and cell phone charging.

Budget: GBP 121,435

Timeframe: July 2014 – August 2015 (13 months)

Project Manager: Margaret Kamau

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Project Highlights

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FEATURE: The A-B-C-D of rural electrification

A systematised approach to a CDKN-supported project has seen the promising demonstration of an off-grid, rural power service model in Uganda. Dr Alastair Livesey, Managing Director of Africa Power, explains how the CDKN pilot project provided power services to a wide range of customers based on its A-B-C-D Rural Electrification model.
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