Obama’s Power Africa initiative gains pace

Power Africa, a private-sector led initiative launched by US President Barack Obama in 2013, pledged to install 30,000 megawatts of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa where millions of people do not have access to reliable power.

The initiative, which has prioritised Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia, has however received criticism in the past days with The New York Times describing its take-off as “sputtering”.

In Kenya however, there are several successful electricity projects that have been borne of this initiative.

One of them is Mibawa Suppliers Limited, a company that supplies solar kits to Kenyans at a cost of Sh6,500 and allowing low-income families to pay for them in instalments.

“Individuals who cannot afford to pay the lump sum amount are allowed to pay a deposit of Sh1,500 and thereafter weekly installments of Sh140 for 80 weeks,” said Mr Michael Wanyonyi, proprietor of Mibawa Suppliers.

The solar kits, which can also charge small electrical appliances such as mobile phones, are currently distributed in Meru, Kakamega, Nandi Hills, and Migori, among other areas.

With each weekly payment, a customer receives an access code to activate the lighting system for a seven-day period, a pay-as-you-go model which saw the business receive a $10,000 (Sh10 million) grant from Power Africa.

Another beneficiary of this initiative is Pfoofy Power and Light Company a renewable energy company set up in 2013. The firm has developed two 10-kilowatt charging station which will be accessible to about 40 motorcycle owners who will pay a standard rental fee to use them.

Once the stations have been installed, motorcycle riders will pay a flat fee of Sh200 for battery charging, a cheaper option than the nearly Sh500 currently spent fuel daily.

In Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Njenga slums, Amos Nguru, is generating electricity from human waste.

His company, Afrisol Energy, has constructed a bio digester that converts faecal sludge into electricity and has so far connected 1,950 school children and 30 households with electricity at a cost of Sh5,000 per person.

“The electricity generated will serve as a source of power for the Kwa Njenga Primary School. It will also provide light for the surrounding area in a radius of 100 metres of the school with a high mask lighting system,” a brief from Kenya’s Power Africa team indicates.

These innovations are among the eight Kenyan start-ups that have each received Sh10 million to aance their projects under the billion Power Africa programme to boost access to energy among low-income earners.

President Obama launched the Power Africa two years ago with the goal of doubling the continent’s electricity generation and connect 60 million to the important resource within five years.

Elizabeth Littlefield, head of the US government-owned Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) which mobilised funds for the projects, said off-grid projects like Mibawa and Afrisol will connect at least one million people.

Other initiatives such as the 100-megawatt Kipeto Wind Farm in Kajiado County will, however, produce power for the national grid.

OPIC currently runs a $100 million (Sh10 billion) renewable energy fund in partnership with International Finance Corporation and another $200 million small and medium-sized enterprise fund with Equity Bank.

“Generally, we expect to exceed the original $1.5 billion (Sh150 billion)ommitted by end of 2015,” said Ms Littlefield.
On Saturday, General Electric signed $155 million (Sh16 billion) supply deal with Kipeto Energy.

“The power deal caps off a successful run of more than $2.5 billion in booked orders in the African continent across transport, aviation, healthcare and energy sectors,” said Jay Ireland, president and chief executive of GE Africa. “The $155 million contract will include 60 wind turbines from us as well as a 15-year service agreement.”