There are 1.3 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to electricity. These days, some of them have acquired hundred-dollar solar panels that produce about five watts of power. That allows them to power a couple of LED lamps in the evening and to charge a mobile phone. But that’s about all they can do with so little power.
But now, remote villages in rural Kenya have started to make use of microgrids to supply electricity to their residents.
Microgrids are small electricity generation and distribution systems that can operate independently of larger grids. There are many of them in the US, but the ones here are connected to the central grid except in emergencies.
In the Kenyan villages, the isolated microgrids contain central solar power systems and can supply enough power to run appliances like refrigerators and washing machines. For a ten-dollar installation fee, villagers can connect to the microgrid through underground cables and can buy a share of the electricity supply.
Most settlements in rural Kenya are dark at night. Only a third of the country’s population has access to the national power grid. Getting electricity from these microgrids is expensive, but it is cheaper than kerosene or diesel generators, which were the only option in the past. The advent of these microgrids is transforming lives.
The challenges of electrifying developing countries like Kenya are enormous. The costs of establishing a central grid throughout a country are prohibitive. Microgrids are a way to bring electrification to populations one community at a time. It is widely believed that electrification is essential in lifting people out of poverty.
Photo, posted September 23, 2013, courtesy of the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.