Atlanta Solar Firm Connects More Villages to ‘Mini-Grids’ in Nigeria, Kenya

Atlanta-based Renewvia Energy Corp. has taken new steps toward its dream of bringing solar energy to off-grid communities in Africa, building a scalable business the process.

In separate projects, Renewvia has netted $1.8 million in funding to enable more of its “mini-grid” projects in Kenya, where it has piloted the concept and built out its business, and Nigeria, where one of the new communities is home to a medical centre.

Kenya and Nigeria sit on opposite sides of the massive continent, but they face similar power challenges and share an aggressive approach to the issue of generating clean and reliable energy. Nigeria is a major exporter of oil, yet the nation of nearly 200 million people faces persistent problems with blackouts. Across Africa, an estimated 600 million people, or nearly half the population across 54 nations, lack access to power. 

Armed with $1.2 million in funding from All On, a Nigerian impact investing firm and accelerator seeded with funds from oil giant Shell, Renewvia is connecting 400 families in the Oloibiri and Akepelai communities in the Niger Delta — where multinational oil companies have been accused of polluting local ecosystems for decades.

Renewvia’s local subsidiaries build and maintain the solar arrays, hammering out 20-year power-purchase agreements with national utilities to protect their investments. 

After an initial connection fee, residents connecting to mini-grids use mobile money applications to pay in advance only for the power they plan to use, allowing families to conserve cash.  

Following a model it pioneered in Kenya, Renewvia in 2018 conducted a feasibility study for bringing mini-grids to 25 communities in Nigeria. 

The first two in the Bayelsa state will be followed by eight more under the funding agreement with All On and partners including teh World Bank and the Nigeria Rural Electrification Agency. 

The Oloibiri mini-grid will power the Oloibiri Health for Life Medical Center (H4LC) and Knowledge Management Institute, part of a local health hub also funded by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria

These microgrids come online in June as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, particularly threatening densely populated countries with limited health systems. 

“We are particularly pleased that one of the first mini-grid projects under this partnership is supporting health care providers during this time of crisis,” All On CEO Wiebe Boer said in a news release. 

Renewvia’s Trey Jarrard said the company is excited about providing the power, but also about the ancillary economic benefits that will come after power is installed in communities that either lack access or rely on sporadic power from diesel generators or home solar systems. 

Renewvia remains in the early stages of an ambitious pan-African plan, he told Africa Oil and Power in an interview published June 19.

“We are forming Renewvia Energy Africa, for all of Renewvia’s sub-Saharan subsidiaries and assets, to be contributed to with an additional $350 million in equity and debt that we are currently raising to further capitalize 1,000 microgrids over the next five years,” he reportedly said. 

In a news release, Renewvia says that it has pre-approvals on 25 more mini-grids and plans to grow power subscriber base to 50,000 homes and businesses, up from 7,500 now, over the next 12 months.

In Kenya, the company now has 11 mini-grids and one commercial installation — the sector that serves as its bread and butter in the United States. The latest three are funded by $630,000 via Germany’s Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, or GIZ, and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. It’s located in Turkana, a massive, arid county where oil has also coincidentally been discovered. 

The three mini-grids are located in the village of Ngurunit, Kalobeyei Town and Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement, where the United Nations High Commission on Refugees houses 38,000 people, many of them from South Sudan. According to GIZ, the camp promotes self-sufficiency among its residents, deploying hydroponics for food production and increasingly focusing on off-grid power.

According to Renewvia, the mini-grid at Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement serves just one of three villages there but has already connected 500 households, as well as businesses and churches. 

Combined, the three Turkana projects have connected more than 760 households and at least 54 local businesses and community institutions. 


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