Off-Grid Electricity in Africa

Iwnetim Abate
January 18, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Picture of the Earth from space at night depicting electricity distribution around the globe. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

According to World Energy Outlook 2016, about 1.2 billion people, 16% of the global population, does not have access to electricity. [1] The number of people without reliable modern energy source is about 2 billion. [2] As shown in Fig. 1, more than 95% of those living without electricity are in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia among which 80% are in rural areas. [1] However, electrification of urban areas is two times faster than rural areas. [1] The most common and traditional method of electrification is using electric grid. However, this method is very expensive due to the cost of the technology and geographical unsuitability. Thus, the current goal among many countries, investors and innovators is to electrify rural areas by leap-forging grid and connecting homes to renewable energy sources using off-grid technologies. [3]

Current Off-Grid Technologies in Africa

Off-grid solar technologies are expanding in Africa at remarkable rate providing power to around 600,000 households. [4] For example, M-Kopa, market leader based in Kenya and providing service in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has more than 400,000 household as clients. The way it works is, customers pay a deposit of ~$35, take the system home then ~$0.50 a day for a period of one year to own the solar system. Daily payments are made through a mobile payment commonly used in Kenya called, M-PESA. [5] Other market competitors including Off Grid Electric, Bboxx and Azuri Technologies are also increasing their services. If this market expansion continues it is possible to leapfrog power lines in much the same way that mobile phones bypassed fixed-line telephone networks. [4]


With the current rate of off-grid electricity expansion the number of home-power systems on African roofs will grow by 60-100%. [4] However, the main challenges are finance and production rate. [4] Therefore, investment in this sector must increase. In addition, current off-grid technologies can only light rooms, charge a smartphone and operate a radio. [4] Thus, to meet the energy demand of factories and businesses, micro-grid systems and other bigger scale methods have to be adapted.

© Iwnetim Abate. 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] "World Economic Outlook - October 2016," International Monetary Fund, 2016.

[2] K. K. Yumkella et al., "Energy for a Sustainable Future," United Nations Advisory Group on Energy and Climage Energy, Apriil 2010.

[3] "The The Leapfrog Continent," The Economist, 6 Jun 15.

[4] "Africa Unplugged," The Economist, 29 Oct 16.

[5] J. Aglionby, "Lightbulb Moment for M-Kopa," Financial Times, 17 Mar 16.