energy access
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Last week, at the Future Energy East Africa conference in Nairobi, I had the pleasure of meeting with a pool of industry experts and stakeholders – and reconnecting with energy die-hards, which is often the case at long-standing events such as this one.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2018/09/19 – subscribe today

Word on the ground is that the region’s energy and power industry is acutely aware of, and thankfully openly discussing, the current slow pace of progress to advance energy access.

Lack of electrification has an impact on households, which spend excessive amounts on unhealthy kerosene and diesel for cooking and lighting; some still rely on the collection of firewood.

Note that this is not endemic to one country: the World Health Organisation estimates that annually 4.3 million people worldwide die from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary cooking fuels.

Providing these households with alternative solutions for cooking and lighting will promote healthier living standards, education, and job opportunities.

As such, conference attendees agreed that mini-grid development can release communities from the limitations created by grid-connected distribution, which takes long to deploy, is costly to develop and has a questionable return on investment to service outlying areas.

However, let’s not forget that developing the region’s wealth of energy resources, including hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar is one of the keys to unlocking GDP growth. Harnessing these resources to increase generation capacity must continue and along with it the construction of high voltage transmission lines to evacuate the power across the region’s vast distances.

It was also noted that the cost of distributed electricity is perceived as exorbitant, with one speaker suggesting that net-metering will lead to reduced electricity tariffs and promote energy access.

Twenty years ago, at the time of the first Future Energy East Africa conference (then known as the East African Power Industry Convention or EAPIC), the sector sorely lacked policy, regulation and general strategic direction. Fortunately, the region has progressed and is readying itself for an explosion of mini-grid development.

The concern is whether utilities in their current form are able to take up the mini- and micro-grid opportunities in some form. Participate in the poll on our Tweeter feed, which ends today [19 September].

Author: Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, editor of ESI Africa

Read the Ed's Note from the previous week: Securing energy access at all costs