THERE IS ROOM FOR PV OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES IN AFRICA
Offgrid solar power has emerged as a vital part of the PV business across the African continent, and is now spreading to other parts of the globe, mainly with solar home systems and microgrids. pv magazine examines the core issues of financing, business models and the quest for user data.
The idea that Africa might leapfrog straight to cheap electricity by developing offgrid solar power is not new. And the idea has now spread to other parts of the developing world, where governments realize offgrid systems can replace costly plans for the expansion of the electricity wires in remote communities.
The Off-Grid Energy Access Forum, held last month in London, provided up-to-date information on the opportunities and challenges of offgrid development and why financing, business models and the quest for user data are the most critical issues.
Delegates at last month’s Africa Energy Forum (AEF) voiced concern solar mini and microgrid financing models do not stack up across the continent and there was at least one call for utility-scale PV to light up Africa.
However, the chief executive of a company which supplies pay-as-you-go (PAYG) home solar systems in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast has told pv magazine there is no silver bullet to bring PV capacity – and reliable electricity supply – to the continent.
“There’s no one single answer to everybody that needs electricity,” said Alistair Gordon, CEO of Lumos Global. “Some development banks and infrastructure funds are looking at large scale deployments but they all take a huge amount of time.” Proponents of utility scale development, off-grid solutions and PAYG providers will all press the claims of their preferred solution, he said, adding: “Everybody will fight their corner, for their own commercial viability. The opportunity [in sub-Saharan Africa] is vast.”
Lumos Global, headquartered in Amstelveen, in the Netherlands has so far rolled out household solar systems which generate a cumulative 30 MWh per day for around 100,000 customers in the two nations in which it operates.
A distribution and logistics arrangement with MTN Group – a South African company which operates mobile phone networks across Africa – enables installers to supply each customer with one or two 80 W solar panels, a 330 Wh battery and associated equipment. Customers who have paid a $40 charge for the installation then sign up for electricity access at a rate of $0.50/day which becomes cheaper depending on the length of time paid for. Payment is taken through the MTN network.
It is a simple solution to providing access to electricity for people beyond the reach of the grid, as is typically the case with Lumos customers in the Ivory Coast, and to providing reliable power supply, as is more often the case with PAYG clients in Nigeria.
Gordon says Lumos is able to secure financial backing for its operations from U.S. government agency partner the Overseas Private Investment Corporation because of the efforts it makes to protect its hardware from physical and digital hackers.
And the Lumos chief adds, the data compiled by the company is another central pillar of its offering to investors. “We take out telemetry… data to understand what the [household] system is doing,” said Gordon. “Performance of the panel, battery, unit, output etc. That can be used to improve customer performance.”
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