American renewable energy companies are joining investors from other countries in what Forbes describes in a blog post as an “electron rush” to serve an African market of 660 million people who remain poorly served by conventional power grids, if they have access to electricity at all.
“In reality, Africa is two markets: urban populations that access over-burdened, under-maintained and poorly performing traditional grids, and rural communities, people living ‘beyond the grid’, in places too remote for power lines,” Forbes notes. Renewable entrepreneurs as well as more established companies are tackling both.
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Renewvia Energy, for one, developed its competence in small, turnkey, solar and microgrid facilities in the United States, before leveraging a tiny, 15-kilowatt, off-grid solar site serving a fish packing plant into “a 50-kilowatt plant for a fish hatchery, and hundreds of megawatts worth of proposed projects from Kenya to Nigeria.”
Larger companies are joining the rush, as well: General Electric, Forbes notes, has sold US$250 million worth of hydroelectric equipment to Africa. Google took a stake in the continent’s biggest wind farm two years ago. And Pierre Omidyar, one of eBay’s billionaire founders, financed D.Light, “a San Francisco-based manufacturer whose solar lanterns and eight-watt rooftop solar kits are in over one million East African homes.”
“Such people are not philanthropists,” D.Light CEO Teo Ozun told Forbes. “They want to make 10 times their investment.”
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