PV mini-grid projects
Rita Nkatha Laibuta, Supervision Consultant: Green Mini Grids - Kenya Programme, DFID/EU/AFD.

GREEN MINI-GRIDS: A target of more than 25,000 connections to households and businesses in rural Kenya.

Exclusive interview with Rita Nkatha Laibuta, Supervision Consultant: Green Mini Grids - Kenya Programme, DFID/EU/AFD.

During a session on “Bankability of mini-grid projects” at the upcoming Future Energy East Africa in Nairobi in September, Ms Laibuta will unpack the “Green Mini-Grids PUE Guides and Access to Finance Pilot Programme”.

Let’s start with some background on yourself, your organisation and the kind of work that you do in the energy sector.
I am a trained Electrical Engineer, with a second degree in Energy Engineering after realising that there are numerous prospects in the Renewable Energy sector. I have been practising in the energy Sector for more than nine years now and currently the Supervision Consultant for the French Development Agency, working on the Green Mini Grids Grant (GMG) Facility (https://www.gmgfacilitykenya.org/).

The GMG Facility is a 15MEUR grant facility funded by DFID and EU-AITF to support private sector mini grid developers through investments and connection based grants and expert technical assistance. We have been implementing mini grid projects since 2017 with a target of achieving more than 25,000 connections to households and businesses in rural Kenya and supporting six or more private mini grid companies.

What in your view are the main challenges in the power sector in Kenya right now? And East Africa?
A lot of the challenges we are facing are quite well known. I would say uncertainty of the regulatory environment which ties in with government buy-in of private sector projects; tariff disparity between utility and private-led electrification projects (i.e. uniform vs cost reflective tariffs); unsatisfactory involvement by local tertiary institutions – a lot could be done in terms of capacity building to prepare youth for the dynamic energy sector. University-led research could be used to disrupt and maybe even fast track rural electrification while increasing synergies between renewable energy and other sectors like agriculture, technology, etc. Local Universities can have an important influence on policy making and technology development. At the moment, this does not seem to be the case.

What in your view are the main opportunities currently?
Most of the East African countries are able to achieve 100% electrification through renewable energy. With the right environment, we can be leading globally on this front. There is also a huge opportunity for public-private partnerships in the energy sector. Lastly, disruptive technology could abruptly change status quo, this is something that gets me very excited – for example, a major advancement in storage could lead to huge savings in the implementation of renewable energy technologies like solar and wind, therefore enabling African countries to electrify off-grid communities at much lower costs.

What is your vision for the industry?
Firstly, to move away from the “dark continent” narrative by achieving 100% access to clean energy. Secondly, to utilise electricity for an industrial revolution in Sub Sahara Africa, therefore creating jobs for the youth. And finally, using renewable energy to move us away from the developing countries’ status to countries which are economically stable. As African countries, we have the opportunity to be the pioneers for innovative Distributed Energy systems.

What surprises you about this sector?
When I joined GMG in 2017, the mini grids sector did not look too promising for East Africa, or even for Kenya, now, we are seeing developers scaling up from East to West Africa at a very fast pace. This shows that with a conducive environment, we can achieve 100% access electricity to off-grid communities very quickly, through Government and private sector initiatives.

At the upcoming Future Energy East Africa, you are part of the conference programme. Can you give us a sneak preview of what your message will be at the event? Or what your expectations are?
I will be speaking about what GMG has done to support PUE in Kenya and the role of PUEs for sustainability of Last Mile connectivity. I am looking forward to networking and learning about new/interesting programs in the sector.