African Solar Power

Kevin Anderson
November 9, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2015


Fig. 1: Share of population without electricity. (Source: K. Anderson - after the IEA Africa Energy Outlook. [4])

For centuries, Africa has been the most under developed continent. The most developed African countries are years behind the United States and the least developed African countries are some of the most impoverished countries in the world. While it is well known that many countries in Africa are under developed, The World Bank Group states that: "energy poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly acute: on a per capita basis, power generation capacity in the region is about one tenth of the levels found in other low income regions." [1] This energy poverty handcuffs the countries ability to grow and prosper. Without constant power, these countries are unable to grow and expand. Fig. 1 shows the share of how many people do not have access to electricity in Africa. By introducing solar energy with sufficient battery supply, Africa will be able to maintain constant electricity leading to GDP growth in the poorest countries.

Solar Potential

One problem with solar energy is that it is very contingent on the sun. At night or during cloudy days, solar cells do not produce any energy. However, one way of solving this issue is the use of batteries. As batteries are becoming less and less expensive, they will become more and more useful for harnessing solar energy. Having so much sunlight throughout the day, Africa has the chance of collecting a large amount of power from the sun. With batteries, the solar cells can power the infrastructure during the day, as well as, charge the batteries. Once the sun goes down, the batteries would take over and power the infrastructure.

Cost Analysis

Fig. 2: Per capita energy usage of some of Africa's poorest countries compared with the USA. (Source: K. Anderson - after the Power Africa Annual Report 2014. [3])

A cost analysis has been calculated for crystalline solar panels in Kenya. It estimated that panels with a lifespan of 20 years would cost roughly USD $1.09/kWh with roughly $35 of annual maintenance. This is incredibly cheap and would produce roughly 879 kWh over its lifetime. [2] The next cost estimate has to be the batteries. Fig. 2 shows how little power some of Africa's poorest countries use. After already using Kenya as an example, let's use its numbers again. In order for Kenya to thrive, solar must improve the existing infrastructure. [3] By setting a goal of double the current power usage per capita, solar power would have to harness roughly 700 kWh per capita annually. If five people live in a house together, that would mean that there would have to be a solar system that provides roughly 3,500 kWh annually. Divide that number by 365 days and the average Kenyan household would need roughly 10 kWh a day. With around 10 hours of sunlight on average, a Kenyan house would need a solar system that has roughly a two kWh capacity to have enough power for the night. And the batteries would need to be able to store roughly 5 kWh. It is known that a car battery can hold roughly one kWh. With a cost of about USD $100 apiece, the average Kenyan household would have to spend roughly USD $500 on five car batteries. In total, an entire solar system that would provide a household of five for 20 years would cost about USD $500 up front, with an annual maintenance cost of USD $35.


While USD $500 may seen like a huge amount of money for someone living in an impoverished country, the utilization of solar power could lead those people and that country out of poverty. USD $500 is an estimate for a household of five. If all five people are able to work, that is only USD $100 a person to double tehir existing power usage. Furthermore, by using batteries, the power will also be reliable. Having reliable, consistent electricity is a privilege that many Americans take for granted. As citizens of the world, we must help share this vital commodity

© Kevin Anderson. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Energy Strategy Approach Paper," The World Bank Group, October 2009.

[2] P. Maher, N. P. A. Smith, and A. A. Williams, "Assessment of Pico Hydro as an Option for Off-Grid Electrification in Kenya," Renew. Energy 28, 1357, (2003).

[3] "Power Africa Annual Report 2014," U.S. Agency for International Development, July 2014.

[4] "Africa Energy Outlook," International Energy Agency, 2014.

[5] D. Heinz, "Small Scale Generation for Electrification of Rural and Remote Areas," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2014.