How off-grid solar units can power Africa’s growing cities

Financial Times | March 2019

“The number of people living in cities in Africa is set to grow from around 500m today to over 1.4bn in the next few decades. By 2025 there will be 100 African cities with more than 1m people, according to McKinsey”.

Nigeria’s electricity grid cannot keep up with the rapidly expanding urban population”, says Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Lumos, which supplies 80 watt solar panel and battery sets in the country. Recommended Investing in Nigeria Off-the-grid thinking to end Nigeria’s blackouts “As you go further from the centre of cities very often, it’s getting worse and worse,” according to Mr Gordon.

“That edge of the city is where a lot of people have a grid that’s not doing much for them.” He estimates that while 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population has access to the electricity grid, only 33 per cent have reliable electricity connections. The use of small-scale solar panels and batteries can help small businesses from hairdressers to market stalls power lights, fans, small televisions and charge mobile phones, according to Lumos.

The rapid reduction in the cost of solar panels and improvements in lithium-ion batteries has made small solar power systems more affordable. Growing use of mobile payments has also enabled easy leasing and ownership arrangements. The Lumos units are cost-competitive with kerosene and more efficient than diesel-powered generators, according to Mr Gordon. Generators are inefficient as they have to be run no matter how much power is needed, wasting fuel and capacity. They also create polluting fumes.

“You really are changing lives,” Mr Gordon says.

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