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Microgrids economically transform rural communities in Kenya

September 28, 2018 • East Africa, Mining & Energy

The new 20-kilowatt solar power microgrid provides power to communities on Ringiti Island

The new 20-kilowatt solar power microgrid provides power to communities on Ringiti Island

Renewvia Energy has unveiled that its first two microgrid facilities, outfitted with the company’s innovative new mobile payment platform, are successfully up and running on the Islands of Ndeda and Ringiti in Kenya’s Lake Victoria region.

These microgrids are the first safe source of energy available to the nearly 10,000 residents and businesses, whose only sources of power before were burning kerosene or petrol or the use of disposable batteries.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, two out of three people do not have access to electricity, but in Lake Victoria, entire island communities lack the ability to safely turn on the lights.

To help solve this problem, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) partnered with Renewvia in 2017 to perform a national solar microgrid feasibility study for eight new microgrid plants totaling 1.5 megawatts (MW) of peak installed capacity in remote regions across Kenya through the Power Africa initiative.

In June 2018, Renewvia co-founders Eric Domescik and Trey Jarrard commissioned the 10 kilowatt (kW) solar and battery-powered plant on Ndeda Island, accessible only via a 45-minute boat ride from the small lakeside town of Uyawi.
“I visited Ndeda not long after they commissioned the new solar facility. There was music coming from the shops on the shore and there were kids on the docks enjoying popsicles,” said David Riposo, USTDA’s Finance and Implementation Manager for the Sub-Saharan Africa Region.

“We are proud to work with our colleagues at the U.S. Embassy and American companies like Renewvia Energy to expand access to energy for underserved and isolated communities across Kenya.”

The Renewvia team then doubled down on their impact last month with the new 20 kW facility on Ringiti Island, two and a half hours away by boat from the lakeside regional hub of Mbita, near Kenya’s southwest boarder. Prioritizing community engagement upfront and throughout the process, each facility includes a continued revenue stream from individual community inhabitants and local businesses through Renewvia’s mobile payment platform, using M-PESA and Commercial Bank of Africa to facilitate the transactions.

“Within the first few weeks of turning on the power, we had several members from the community and business subscribers signing-up and pre-paying to be connected,” said Pam Onyanyo, Director and head of Renewvia’s Kenya operations. “We expect to see exponential growth over the next twelve months, and with several other microgrid facilities in the works, this is just the beginning.”

This work has impact at home and abroad: Since partnering with USTDA, Renewvia has more than tripled its Atlanta workforce with plans to grow this year, opened offices in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, and is exploring over 100 solar microgrid development sites in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

Edited by Neo Sesinye
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