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Mobile-phone based off-grid solar is powering many rural homes in Africa.

Many countries in Africa remain not connected to the main grid, and they never will be. Why do I say this? These countries may leapfrog from using power from the main grid to the use of decentralized renewable energy.

Just the same way Africa leapfrogged from using grid-type connected telephone lines to cellphones — Africa is doing the same thing with grid power to off-grid solar.

There is vast potential, and the market for off-grid solar remains untapped for most regions in Africa. The technology for a more significant part includes packaged solar PV solutions coupled with smart grids, smart meters, financing, services, warranties, etc.

With electricity, children would not have to gather wood to boil water – a simple electric stove could do that. A light could be turned on at night so that they could read before bed. And the aged grandparents or infant sibling could enjoy the breeze from a simple fan on sweltering, 40+ degree Celsius days – it could make a difference between life and death.

Offering decentralized energy solutions to these homes will help to solve the problem while the government alone cannot solve this problem, because it is about 600 million people without electricity, and this translates to $19 billion a year in energy investments. This vast population of Africans without electricity is almost twice the population of the USA.

Creating decentralized renewable energy solutions rather than constructing massive power plants or grid extension may help to solve time constraint issues or huge investment issues.

Off-grid solar or decentralized renewable energy concept has failed in the past because of the mode of delivery or approach. Many donors used this approach to deliver “free technology” but because of lack of maintenance, training, and lack of after-sales service, this mode of technology transfer failed to deliver.

Nowadays, a private sector-driven approach called the “Pay as you go (PAYGO)” – a mobile phone-based payment plan has revolutionized the off-grid solar market.

Widespread uptake of mobile phone payment systems such as MPESA has helped off-grid solar firms to thrive in under-served areas where most people lack collateral. Also, the decreasing cost of solar panels over the last decade helped the private sector to offer affordable off-grid solar.

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