How data-driven research partnerships deepen energy access across supply chains
For the GreenBiz article, click here.
For the GreenBiz article, click here.
Originally published in Mongabay:
Keywords: off-grid energy; village power; decentralized energy, energy services, energy innovation. Overview: Two critically important and interlinked challenges face the global community in the 21st century: the persistence of widespread energy poverty and the resulting lost economic opportunity; and intensifying human-driven climate disruption. These crises are inexorably linked through the energy technology systems that have so far provided the vast majority of our energy: biomass and fossil fuels. Both the energy service crisis and the climate crisis have become increasingly serious over the past decades, even though we have seen greater clarity over the individual and social costs that each has brought to humanity. The Sustainable Energy Imperative: The correlation between access to electricity and a wide range of social goods is overwhelming. However, access to improved energy services alone does not provide a surefire pathway to economic opportunity and an improved quality of life. In Figure 2 we show the correlations that exist between electricity access across nations and a variety of measures of quality of life, such as the Human Development Index (a measure of well-being based in equal thirds on gross national income, life expectancy, and educational attainment). Other indicators studied include gender equality in educational opportunity, and the percentage of students who reach educational milestones. All of these indices improve significantly and roughly linearly with access to electricity. At the same time, the percentage of people below the poverty line, and childhood mortality, both decline with increasing energy access1. Figure 1: A village micro-grid energy and telecommunications system in the Crocker Highlands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. The system serves a community of two hundred, and provides household energy services, telecoms and satellite (dish shown), water pumping for fish ponds (seen at center) and for refrigeration. The supply includes micro-hydro and solar generation (one small panel shown here, others are distributed on building rooftops). Photo credit: Daniel M. Kammen. Figure 2: The Human Development Index (HDI) and various additional metrics of quality of life plotted against the percentage of the population with electricity access. Each data point is country level data a specific point in time. For additional data, see Alston, Gershenson, and Kammen, 20151. Today the gap between global population and those with electricity access stands at roughly 1.3 billion, with energy services for the unelectrified coming largely from kerosene and traditional biomass, including dung and agricultural residues. This ‘access gap’ has persisted as grid expansion programmes and population have grown. Grid expansion has roughly kept pace with the increase in the global population. About 1.4 billion people in 2013 are completely off-grid, and many ostensibly connected people in the developing world experience significant outages that range from 20-200+ days a year. The majority of these off-grid residents are in rural and underserved peri-urban areas. Current forecasts are that this number will remain roughly unchanged until 2030, which would relegate a significant portion of the population and the economies of many of the neediest countries on earth to fragile, underproductive lives with less options than they could otherwise have. Traditional grid extension will be slowest to reach these communities. Unless the advances in both energy and information systems that have occurred over the past decade are more widely adopted, there will be little if any chance to alter this trend. Advances in off-grid systems Recently we have seen an emergence of off-grid electricity systems that do not require the same supporting networks as the traditional forms of centralized power generation. These technological innovations are as much based on information systems as they are directly about energy technology. While traditional electricity grids can gradually pay off (amortize) the costs of expensive generation, transmission and distribution capital equipment across many customers and across many decades, a new business model is needed to rapidly bring energy services to the rural and urban poor. Mini-grids and products for individual user end-use such as solar home systems have benefitted from dramatic price reductions and performance advances in solid state electronics, cellular communications technologies, electronic banking, and in the dramatic decrease in solar energy costs2. This mix of technological and market innovation has contributed to a vibrant new energy services sector that in many nations has outpaced traditional grid expansion. The comparison between the utility model of central-station energy systems and this new wave of distributed energy providers is instructive. Traditional dynamo generators and arc lighting perform best at large scale, and they became the mainstay of large-scale electric utilities. The classic utility model of a one-way flow of energy from power plant to consumers is now rapidly changing. The combination of low-cost solar, micro-hydro, and other generation technologies coupled with the electronics needed to manage small-scale power and to communicate to control devices and to remote billing systems has changed village energy. High-performance, low-cost photovoltaic generation, paired with advanced batteries and controllers, provide scalable systems across much larger power ranges than central generation, from megawatts down to fractions of a watt3. The rapid and continuing improvements in end-use efficiency for solid state lighting, direct current televisions, refrigeration, fans, and information and communication technology (ICT, as seen in Figure 1) have resulted in a 'super-efficiency trend'. This progress has enabled decentralized power and appliance systems to compete with conventional equipment for basic household needs. These rapid technological advances in supporting clean energy both on- and off-grid are furthermore predicted to continue. This process has been particularly important at the individual device and household (solar home system) level, and for the emerging world of village mini-grids3. Diverse Technology Options to Provide Energy Services for the Unelectrified: With these technological cornerstones, aid organizations, governments, academia, and the private sector are developing and supporting a wide range of approaches to serve the needs of the poor, including pico-lighting devices (often very small 1 – 2 watt solar panels charging lithium-ion batteries which in turn power low-cost/high efficiency light emitting diode lights), solar home systems (SHS), and community-scale micro- and mini-grids. Decentralized systems are clearly not complete substitutes for a reliable grid connection, but they represent an important level of access until a reliable grid is available and feasible. They provide an important platform from which to develop more distributed energy services. By overcoming access barriers often through market-based structures, these systems provide entirely new ways to bring energy services to the poor and formerly un-connected people. Meeting peoples’ basic lighting and communication needs is an important first step on the 'modern electricity service ladder' 4. Eliminating kerosene lighting from a household improves household health and safety while providing significantly higher quality and quantities of light. Fuel based lighting is a $20 billion industry in Africa alone, and tremendous opportunities exist to both reduce energy costs for the poor, and to improve the quality of service. Charging a rural or village cell phone can cost $5 – 10/kWh at a pay-for-service charging station, but less than $0.50 cents/kWh via an off-grid product or on a mini-grid. This investment frees income and also tends to lead to higher rates of utilization for mobile phones and other small devices. Overall, the first few watts of power mediated through efficient end-uses lead to benefits in household health, education, and poverty reduction. Beyond basic needs there can be a wide range of important and highly-valued services from decentralized power (e.g., television, refrigeration, fans, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, motor-driven applications) depending on the power level and its quality along with demand-side efficiency. Experience with the 'off-grid' poor confirms the exceptional value derived from the first increment of energy service—equivalent to 0.2-1 Wh/day for mobile phone charging or the first 100 lumen-hours of light. Given the cost and service level that fuel-based lighting and fee-based mobile phone charging provide as a baseline, simply shifting this expenditure to a range of modern energy technology solutions could provide a much better service, or significant cost savings over the lifetime of a lighting product (typically 3-5 years). Mirroring the early development of electric utilities, improvements in underlying technology systems for decentralized power are also being combined with new business models, institutional and regulatory support, and integrated information technology systems5, 6. Historically, the non-technical barriers to adoption have been impediments to widespread adoption of off-grid electricity, and in some cases they still are. A lack of appropriate investment capital also hampers the establishment and expansion of private sector initiatives. Furthermore, complex and often perverse policy environments impair entry for clean technologies and entrench incumbent systems. Subsidies for liquid lighting fuels can reduce the incentive to adopt electric lighting. In addition, the prevalence of imperfect or inaccurate information about quality can lead to market spoiling4 and is also manifested by a lack of consumer understanding and awareness of alternatives to incumbent lighting technology. Testing laboratories that rate the quality of the lighting products and disseminate the results are an invaluable step in increasing the quality and competitiveness of new entrants into the off-grid and mini-grid energy services space. The Lighting Global (https://www.lightingglobal.org) programme5 is one example of an effort that began as an industry watchdog, but has now become an important platform that provides market insights, steers quality assurance frameworks for modern, off-grid lighting devices and systems, and promotes sustainability through a partnership with industry. An Action Agenda for Energy Access: The diversity of new energy service products available, and the rapidly increasing demand for information and communication services, water, health and entertainment in villages worldwide has built a very large demand for reliable and low-cost energy7. Combining this demand with the drive for clean energy brings two important objectives that were for many years seen as in direct competition with alignment around the suite of new clean energy products that can power village energy services. To enable and expand this process, a range of design principles emerge that can form a roadmap to clean energy economies:
CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE, APRIL 7, 2015 http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2015-04-07/welcome-decentralized-energy-revolution-cleanly-electrifying
Kenya was once an energy black hole. Today Masaai moran (warriors) herd their livestock while simultaneously checking cattle prices in Mombasa on their cell phones, which they holster in beaded pouches worn around their necks.The abrupt and massive spread of cell phone technology has encouraged virtual banking systems that allow small-scale energy producers and their customers to do business from anywhere, and on a pro-rata basis. Customers are able to buy power in exceedingly small increments—say, enough to recharge their cell phones and power an LED light or two, or a tiny refrigerator and a high-efficiency hot plate. That’s a big deal in the developing world, where even a few such amenities make a gigantic difference in the quality of life—and where cash always is in short supply. It allows customers in rural Africa and Asia to analogously do with energy what they do when they visit a village store: buy a single stick of gum or a matchbook. Indeed, Kammen says, trusted e-banking systems are essential for the support of the mini-grid network, and he notes that the developing world has led in creating apps for such services. He cites Kenya as an especially shining example. Fifteen years ago, the country was a communications black hole. Hard-line telephony was the rule, and spotty at best. Outside Nairobi and Mombasa, people made do with CB radios or word of mouth. Then mobile technology arrived, and within a few years everyone was connected. Today, when visiting the country’s wildlife reserves, you’ll see Masaai moran (warriors) herding their livestock while simultaneously checking cattle prices in Mombasa on their cell phones, which they holster in beaded pouches worn around their necks. “In the 1990s I helped start up Mpala Research Center in Laikipia [in northern Kenya],” recalls Kammen. “We had to wait for a satellite to pass overhead so we could make our 35-second phone calls. Now researchers are receiving streaming data on individual lions and African wild dogs that they’re tracking.” In 2007, a proprietary mobile system known as M-Pesa was launched in Kenya. Originally promoted as an easy way to post payments for microloans, it was soon used by working urbanites as a means of sending money to relatives back on the rural shamba. M-Pesa is now Kenya’s preeminent banking system. As of late 2013, 19 million of the country’s 44 million people were signed up, with 25 percent of the national economy flowing through M-Pesa’s virtual conduits. In terms of energy development, that means small-scale power providers can receive payment for specific services from customers seamlessly, bypassing everything from poor infrastructure (people don’t have to walk miles over cattle trails to pay their bills) to government and corporate corruption. “And we’re seeing other IT applications all around the developing world,” Kammen says. “In Bangladesh, for example, phones are being used to test battery [arrays]. Keeping battery systems fully functional is critical for mini-grids, and it’s a big problem in Bangladesh, where a third of the country floods each year. Mini-grids don’t have maintenance teams regularly checking the systems, but you can upload data on cell phones when there’s a specific problem, and the provider can deal with it.”
“We’re moving from an era that has remained under-innovated for decades—the system where you pay a big utility for your energy—to decentralized systems…. It’s essentially the democratization of energy.”Decentralized electrification also reduces the causes of deforestation. When people have electricity, the rate of charcoal and wood burning typically decreases dramatically, Kammen observes. And decentralized energy isn’t just an accelerating trend in the developing world. In America, solar panels are sprouting on suburban homes like chanterelle mushrooms in Mendocino after a winter rain; cell phones are ubiquitous. The United States, in short, is experiencing its own decentralized energy revolution. “I have solar panels on my roof, and I can use my phone to track how much power each one is producing,” Kammen says. “I can determine which ones are dirty and may need a cleaning to improve performance. I can see how green my energy consumption is at any moment.” That points to a shift in power (political, not electrical) from the energy producer to the consumer. In fact, Kammen contends that the “Big Grid” of the existing utilities must adapt, melding with the growing mini- and micro-grids, to thrive. “We’re moving from an era that has remained under-innovated for decades—the system where you pay a big utility for your energy—to decentralized systems that have a lot of networked components and consumer input, all driven by powerful IT,” Kammen says. “It’s essentially the democratization of energy.” But to really accelerate the trend, Kammen says, a big dog must emerge from the pack of alt-energy advocates. “We’re working with a number of start-ups that are wrestling with the best way to put this all together,” Kammen says. “Nobody has hit on the right approach yet, but I anticipate somebody will do a Facebook kind of breakout sooner or later, come up with an off-grid version of Tesla. Our paper has been getting a lot of response in the week since its publication, in part because it demonstrates just how negative the impacts of poor energy access are. We show how it stymies educational opportunities and exacerbates gender inequality. It accelerates deforestation and can increase carbon emissions. But we also identify a goal: providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people who don’t have it by 2030. And with the systems we discuss, we think that’s achievable.”
Posted on April 7, 2015 - 11:06am
November 9, 2020: Canada has expressed interest in a new, smaller type of nuclear reactor that proponents say will be critical to help the country reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But there is debate among researchers, advocates and other experts on whether these new reactors are necessary to reach net-zero — or whether it's better accomplished by focusing efforts elsewhere. Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, cautions that any stance on the role small modular reactors will play in Canada's energy future depends on research and data that could still be years away. "We have a data set, currently, of zero," he told What on Earth. "You can forecast what they might be based on technical assessments ... but it's based on no real data. It's based just on what we hope will come out of different plans."
Good Grids Make Good Neighbors: Peace and Sustainability in the Post Paris World Location: William J. Perry Conference Room, Encina Hall, 2nd Floor, Stanford University, 616 Serra St, Stanford, CA 94305 3:30 - 5:00 PM, Monday, February 26, 2018 Abstract: Clean energy provides a number of benefits at scales from household to village to city and region. An unrealized and under-appreciated opportunity is to transition conflict regions from external fuel supply chains to local, clean and unpolluting energy. The benefits of this transition include local energy security to shared benefits from sustaining local generation capacity, which we term 'peace through grids'. Speaker bio: Daniel M. Kammen is a Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley, with parallel appointments in the Energy and Resources Group where he serves as Chair, the Goldman School of Public Policy where he directs the Center for Environmental Policy, and the department of Nuclear Engineering. Kammen is the founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL; http://rael.berkeley.edu), and was Director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center from 2007 - 2015. He was appointed by then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in April 2010 as the first energy fellow of the Environment and Climate Partnership for the Americas (ECPA) initiative. He began service as the Science Envoy for U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2016, but resigned over President Trump’s policies in August 2017. He has served the State of California and US federal government in expert and advisory capacities, including time at the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Energy, the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr. Kammen was educated in physics at Cornell (BA 1984) and Harvard (MA 1986; PhD 1988), and held postdoctoral positions at the California Institute of Technology and Harvard. He was an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Program at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University before moving to the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Kammen has served as a contributing or coordinating lead author on various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1999. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Kammen helped found over 10 companies, including Enphase that went public in 2012, Renewable Funding (Renew Financial) a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) implementing company that went public in 2014. Kammen played a central role in developing the successful bid for the $500 million energy biosciences institute funded by BP. During 2010-2011 Kammen served as the World Bank Group’s first Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. While there, Kammen worked on the Kenya-Ethiopia “green corridor” transmission project, Morocco’s green transformation, the 10-year energy strategy for the World Bank, and on investing in household energy and gender equity. He was appointed to this newly created position in October 2010, in which he provided strategic leadership on policy, technical, and operational fronts. The aim is to enhance the operational impact of the Bank’s renewable energy and energy efficiency activities while expanding the institution’s role as an enabler of global dialogue on moving energy development to a cleaner and more sustainable pathway. Kammen’s work at the World Bank included funding electrified personal and municipal vehicles in China, and the $1.24 billion transmission project linking renewable energy assets in Kenya and Ethiopia. He has authored or co-authored 12 books, written more than 300 peer-reviewed journal publications, and has testified more than 40 times to U.S. state and federal congressional briefings, and has provided various governments with more than 50 technical reports. For details see http://rael.berkeley.edu/publications. Dr. Kammen also served for many years on the Technical Review Board of the Global Environment Facility. He is the Specialty Chief Editor for Understanding Earth and Its Resources for Frontiers for Young Minds. Kammen is a frequent contributor to or commentator in international news media, including Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Financial Times. Kammen has appeared on ‘60 Minutes’ (twice), NOVA, Frontline, and hosted the six-part Discovery Channel series Ecopolis. Dr. Kammen is a Permanent Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society. In the US, he has served on several National Academy of Sciences boards and panels.
Please join us for a presentation by several RAEL projects to Next10, and a dialog around efforts on sustainable energy that we are looking to undertake together.
Among the many Next10 efforts they publishF. Noel PerryNoel Perry is a businessman, philanthropist, and the founder of Next 10, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and empowers Californians to improve the state’s future. Prior to founding Next 10, he was managing director of Baccharis Capital Inc., a socially responsible venture capital fund that he founded in 1991. Noel is also a Peace Corps alum, having served in Yemen where he built water projects in rural villages.Colleen KredellColleen Kredell is the director of research at Next 10, working with Noel to identify and manage research projects that support the Next 10 mission. She received her Master of Sustainable Development Practice at UC Berkeley where she was affiliated with the Climate Readiness Institute and ReNUWIt. Prior to Berkeley, she worked in climate and energy policy and programming in Washington, DC and at Stanford University.About Next 10Next 10 is focused on innovation and the intersection between the economy, the environment, and quality of life issues for all Californians. Our work is divided into a few key areas: expert-commissioned research, civic engagement tools and events, and stakeholder convenings. Our most recently published report, the ninth annual California Green Innovation Index, highlighted the growing challenge CA faces as a result of increasing transportation emissions in the state.
|California’s clean economy sector is diversifying and advancing according to new data highlighted in the 2016 California Green Innovation Index. Next 10's eighth edition of the California Green Innovation Index, for the first time, analyzes and ranks the Golden State’s economic and energy performance in comparison to the world’s 50 largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting nations, in addition to comparing 26 regions within California. The Index reveals new data about clean tech patents, investment levels, energy productivity levels, state GDP relative to greenhouse gas emissions, California's clean economy jobs and more. The 2015 edition of this research can be found at http://next10.org/international.|
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Barack Obama announced Tuesday two new initiatives mobilizing up to $1.4 billion to finance India’s commitment to universal energy access. Minigrids are renewable energy-based electricity generators that serve a set of consumers. They make up a major part of Modi’s promise to provide electricity to all Indians by 2019. Many have asked whether minigrids could be the next big opportunity beyond the grid. And with this influx of capital, Modi is well-positioned to put that question to the test as he looks to power the more than 18,000 villages that currently lack electricity. Because there are far less sustainable ways for India to meet its ambitious targets, part of the pathway to the global goal of universal access to electricity by 2030, the stakes are high and the world is watching. “We believe that these remote areas which have been left out cannot be serviced with the regular grid,” Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said last week at EnergyAccessX, an event that took place in San Francisco as part of the annual Clean Energy Ministerial. He asked the audience to provide feedback on a draft national policy outlining how microgrids and minigrids can provide cost effective off-grid energy. “We will have a model of grid connected microgrids,” he said.As the policy acknowledges, while the world has seen tremendous growth of solar home systems in the developing world, barriers continue to stall the expansion of minigrids. “When you look at the actual experience with minigrids, it’s not just not as good as the potential, but many have massively underachieved,” said Dan Kammen, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a U.S. Science Envoy. Minigrids are a more obvious fit for areas where the concentration of homes and businesses is too far to connect to the existing grid but large enough to provide economies of scale. So it is harder for the minigrid sector to take off in countries with less population density, let alone less regulatory support, than India. Technological improvements and cost reductions have helped minigrids overcome some of the barriers they once faced, but development banks and aid donors play a key role in catalyzing the growth of the minigrid industry. Scattered across the tables at EnergyAccessX were booklets from Sierra Club and Oil Change International giving international public finance a big red F for distributed clean energy access. The recommendations for multilateral development banks included increasing funding for off-grid and minigrid clean energy projects and moving beyond pilot projects to incorporate off-grid and minigrid lending into core energy portfolios. Minigrids raise challenges that more traditional development donor investment practices are not always well adapted to confront, said Justin Guay, climate program officer at the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in San Francisco. This is due in part to a disconnect between the expertise and incentives of most development bank staff, who tend to focus on extensive due diligence for a small number of large projects, and the new opportunities to reach energy impoverished customers, which require numerous smaller investments with higher risk. “Development funding agencies can’t really go out and fund a hundred $1 million dollar rural electrification projects. The paperwork is massive, there’s a vetting process for all constituents, and they want traceability in terms of where all dollars are going and what payback is going to be,” Fluidic Energy CEO Steve Scharnhorst told Devex. The International Finance Corp., the World Bank’s venture capital arm, has invested in his clean energy company, which is leveraging its metal and air batteries to store electricity in renewable energy minigrids in emerging markets.“If you can bring scale through a minigrid and do 100 villages or 500 villages and make it a consolidated financial effort where the agencies are vetting a half dozen partners for a large investment, it makes it easier to get done.” The Global Facility on Mini-Grids aims to remove the barriers constraining the expansion of low cost, clean energy minigrids in emerging markets, Malcolm Cosgrove-Davies, global lead for energy access at the World Bank, told Devex. The group will host an event focused on minigrids in Nairobi, Kenya, later this month to evaluate successful minigrid projects. It will evaluate successful minigrid projects to understand what has worked from technology to policy to finance. Case studies might include the Infrastructure Development Company Limited program in Bangladesh, which has been called the most successful off-grid program in the world. Events such as these represent one way the global development community can rally market actors around a common vision and build momentum for minigrid market growth, said Kristina Skierka, campaign director of Power for All, a key organizer of EnergyAccessX. For these success stories to scale in Africa, minigrids must rely on champions who can mobilize the money needed to bridge the market imperfections. “I’m becoming increasingly obsessed with minigrids,” said Andrew Herscowitz, coordinator for the United States government’s Power Africa initiative. He said it is incumbent on donors and governments to give minigrids a chance to be a part of the solution beyond India. “We have to try,” he said. Herscowitz named two partners in Beyond the Grid, a Power Africa sub-initiative, as examples of companies that are demonstrating points of commercial viability across multiple places on the African continent. He mentioned Powerhive, which partners with utilities and independent power producers to provide microgrid electricity, and Virunga Power, which develops, invests in, and operates rural distribution grids. In Tanzania, Devergy, which deploys minigrid systems for low income people in rural villages, is partnering with Simusolar, which provides and finances energy efficient appliances, to test out a combined offering of microgrid and off-grid systems. Michael Kuntz, the San Francisco-based co-founder of Simusolar, said this effort will serve as a case study for how the two approaches are complementary rather than competitive. Similarly, he hopes the Indian government will provide data as it implements its micro-grid and minigrid policy. Its success will depend on the details, from how the system is designed and presented, to how incentives from stakeholders are aligned, to how the product life cycle is managed, Kuntz said.
Microgrids answer a criticism of rooftop solar, which some say can lock communities into energy poverty.Berkeley, “a true hot-bed of innovation popping up all over the world.” n countries such as Kenya, whose economies are growing faster than either conventional, centralized electricity generation or power grids, the potential of microgrids to electrify powerless communities is huge. Many believe they provide the only likely route to deliver UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s goal of bringing electricity to the 1.3 billion mostly rural people globally who currently lack it. And they answer a charge often made against roof-top solar power systems, which critics say can lock communities into energy poverty by offering only tiny amounts of power for each household. Entasopia is as remote as it gets. It is close to the border with Tanzania, at the end of a bumpy laterite road that winds its way from Magadi, a town some 30 miles to the east. Its single street comprises houses fronted by tin-roofed buildings with businesses ranging from butchers and general stores to bars and mobile phone shops. It is where Maasai livestock herders in their bright traditional dress come to buy and sell, topping up their mobile phones before disappearing back into the bush. And it is where people from other Kenyan tribes such as the Luo, Kikuyu and Kamba have congregated since an irrigation project fed by rivers from nearby hills started watering fields of fruit and vegetables for sale to Kenyan cities. Joseph Nyagilo, field manager for microgrid pioneer SteamaCo, picked out Entasopia for a microgrid in 2014 because of the town’s strong business activity, which he believed could benefit from the extra power that a such a
SteamaCo’s solar panels were installed in the village chief’s yard at a cost of $75,000.idea is to link the supply hardware to pre-payment services that use the country’s popular mobile phone-based banking system, M-Pesa. Cloud-based software keeps track of supplies and payments, alerting customers by text messaging when their credit runs low. There are no contracts, no bills, and no revenue collection problems. Customers can top up their credit, in amounts as small as a few cents. But once the credit expires, the lights go out. Entasopia’s PV hub, renting space in the yard of the village chief, cost $75,000 to install. It has 24 panels with a maximum generating capacity of 5.6 kilowatts. A control box below houses the smart meter that measures and controls power to each of the 64 customers in town and also communicates remotely with payments software, cutting off power when credit is exhausted. In remote areas such as Entasopia, where wi-fi is largely absent, all data is sent by SMS. “One bar of mobile signal is all we need,” says Moder. “We can be everywhere.” The site agent keeping a day-to-day eye on things in Entasopia is John Pambio, a young electrical engineer living down the street from the village chief, who also runs a shop repairing mobile phones and TVs. Pambio cleans the PV cells once a week and troubleshoots for customers suffering outages, trips, or damaged cables. The biggest power demand, he says, is at night, when lights, TVs, and sound systems come on. That is not a great match with solar energy production, which of course is in daylight hours. But, like most village hubs, Entasopia has battery storage sufficient for at least 24 hours of use. Commercial microgrid PV systems still charge prices for power that are quite high. SteamaCo — and the microgrid partners that it increasingly licenses — charge between two and four dollars per kilowatt-hour. That delivers lighting more cheaply than kerosene, and power more cheaply than a diesel generator. But it is double the price of state-subsidized grid power in a city like Nairobi. SteamaCo co-founder and chief technical officer Sam Duby believes that, just as microgrids are changing life in villages like Entasopia, so they have the potential to transform the prospects for scaling up solar energy elsewhere in Africa and the developing world. First, replacing roof systems with village microgrids provides for the first time the amount and reliability of power that rural people want, which is enough to change their lives and livelihoods. Secondly, the smart metering that links village supply systems to pay-as-you-go charging networks, resolves the constant bugbear of village power systems — how to collect
Microgrids provide the amount and reliability of power that rural people want, which is enough to change their lives.revenues from customers in poor and remote places. And thirdly, the data supplied by the smart metering has the potential to unlock the major financing that “Steama” is Swahili for “power.” But for Duby, the power is as much about data as electricity. Now, when he and his potential investors switch on their laptops in Nairobi and access the dashboard where data from the villages and payments systems is collated and analyzed, they can probe how thousands of the world’s poorest people use electricity and what encourages them to use more. “Nobody has had this kind of data before,” says Moder. “It lowers barriers to investment, because the data provide greater certainly about payback. You can give investors real projections that aren’t a total guess.” Duby says the data also offer governments or donors the chance to directly subsidize solar power as it is purchased — a microgrid version of the feed-in tariffs that have kick-started solar and wind power in Europe. The stories the data from places like Entasopia tell are not all good news. For instance, there is the experience of Margaret Mwangi, who set up a hair salon in the room behind her tiny general store across from Okoth’s bar. When Mwangi got solar power, she bought a refrigerator for selling cold drinks and a blow-drier for the salon. But each head of African hair takes 30 minutes to dry, and the power needed is costing too much. “Last month I paid 14,000 shillings [about $140] for electricity,” she complains. “I can’t afford that.” She has stopped paying, and her shop is now dark. The reason for her problem is clear, says Nyagilo, the SteamCo field manager. Mwangi’s blow-drier is among the biggest power users in the village. Back in Nairobi they can see the power surge when she turns it on. Thirty minutes of use costs double the 50 cents extra that Mwangi charges her customers for the blow dry, but she says she dare not charge more. “Margaret used to be our biggest customer here. We want her to stay,” Nyagilo says. He is planning to offer her a special deal to get her back on line — maybe a flat-rate $50-a-month charge. Back at SteamaCo’s headquarters in a small business park outside Nairobi, Moder opens up the data dashboard on her laptop. Zooming in on the Entasopia numbers, she trawls to see how much power Mwangi, Okoth, and their other customers tap from the microgrid, and how much they pay and when. Most customers top up 50 cents each evening to watch TV and keep the lights on. Some lose track of what they are paying and need help. “We need different tariff structures for different people,” she says. “But
Even though our customers are poor, they have purchasing power and know how to use it.’with smart meters that is easy to do.” SteamaCo’s origins lie in an NGO called Access:Energy set up in 2009 by Duby and current CEO Harrsion Leaf on the shores of Lake Victoria. It trained local craftsmen in making wind turbines from scrap metal. But its technology has come a long way. Renamed SteamaCo, it installed its first microgrid system with smart metering in 2013, on Remba, a remote fishing island in Lake Victoria. Since then, expansion has been fast. By mid-October, the company had 25 village grids across Kenya, with an additional five in Tanzania, Benin, Rwanda and Nepal, and five more ready for completion in Kenya by year’s end. “In 2016, we want hundreds of grids in dozens of countries,” says Moder. In its first years, the company financed its work with aid money and research grants. But early investors also included the Vulcan Capital, set up by Microsoft founder and philanthropist Paul Allen. And now Duby and Leaf are raising money from equity funds that want a commercial return from the revenues of selling electricity. “We want to show this business can be profitable,” says Moder. “Even though our customers are poor, they have purchasing power and know how to use it. They don’t want charity, and we treat them as responsible consumers.” For instance, with revenues above $10,000 in its first year, SteamaCo’s microgrid in Entasopia is likely SteamaCo provides a very personal service. Nyagilo has toured hundreds of remote villages in the past three years, knocking on doors and probing business accounts to conduct instant assessments of their suitability for a microgrid. And he keeps returning to check on his customers. These days,