Solar Power for rural Africa

Europe will always need wind and other winter related energy sources like wood fueled heat-power coupling to solve the seasonality issue. However, the yield of a 10 kWp solar installation close to the equator is not only higher in total, it is also less seasonal. Furthermore, the average power consumption of a household is about 10 kWh/day in Europe compared to less than 2 kWh/day in Africa. 

Seasonality of solar power on islands at different latitudes
Seasonality of solar power on islands at different latitudes

The Kenyan electricity grid only reaches about 23% of the population, mostly the urban population. Grid power costs 14 to 19 US-cents/kWh; net-metering is allowed and a solar feed-in tariff is in place offering 12 USD/kWh . Besides its geothermal potential, Kenya has plans to generate half of the country's electricity from solar power; big scale solar parks are announced, however until now, the off-grid market was far more dynamic. More than 300'000 rural off-grid households use solar home systems (SHS), about 30'000 new SHS with typically 14-20 Watt are sold every year. More than 10 solar companies in Kenya offer pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solutions. 


While less than 10% of the population had mobile phones in 2002, mobile phone payment services started in 2007 (M-Pesa, Today, about 1/3 of the GDP of Kenya is transferred via phone and more than 80% have mobile phones. M-Kopa started financing SHS in 2011 with great success  and their website transparently illustrates the set offered ; other companies are less transparent on their websites ( - 50 W system with 3 year payment plan / Mobisol - - 80-200 W / / / 


An average rural household annually spends somewhat 165 USD for kerosene light plus 36 USD for phone charging plus 72 USD for batteries. Micro-SHS cost 150 to 300 USD; the PAYG company asks for a upfront payment and calculates with about 20% interest rate. Without payment, the SIM-card blocks the battery. 


Link to article about M-Kopa

Links to considerable African solar companies


PEG Africa, 250 employees, solar home systems including financing



Solynta Energy, >1 MW residential and commercial PV installations, including financing options


Africa Green Tec, German company investing more than 6 Mio EUR in solar containers for rural electrification in Mali (230 solar Kiosk in 11 countries)

Mobile Solarladestation: (Ruanda, Uganda)

Personal experience in East Africa

I visited Tanzania in 2008 for a study about how to supply a Jatropha oil mill in Mpanda with power. Mpanda isn't connected to the national grid but the state utility Tanesco operates two big diesel generators for the town. However the electricity tariffs regulated by the state authority are far below the diesel generation costs, so Tanesco struggles with high deficits. Furthermore hydro power yields decrease due to climate change, Tanesco had to buy fossil fueled power from independent power producers far above the price chargeable to customers. In this year of record high oil prices, electricity was available in Mpanda only for some hours per day - the utility staff was waiting for new fuel. However it's understandable that Tanesco isn't wild about sending fuel trucks 4000 km over sandy roads just to make a loss with every kWh produced. 


Starting as a German development project, locally harvested and pressed Jatropha oil should have substituted the fossile fuel. Now first there's the biological challenge: Jatropha didn't prove its wonderful yield expected. Yes, the Jatropha bush can grow on arid land without irrigation, and yes it can have high yields - but not both at the same time. Then second came the organizational challenge: Seeds and loans were given to hundreds of farmers for intercropping (not competing with food crops), but farmers asked for higher cultivation "loans", unaware that loans are not gifted subsidies. The database didn't prove reliable - in a lack of competence many farmers were registered twice - and organizing the collection proofed difficult. Another local organization might have dealt with that - the well organized tobacco growers which so far overexploit the light forest vegetation to dry tobacco. After unsatisfying years, the German company sold its rarely used oil mill property to the tobacco growers, unfortunately without a solution for the farmers once motivated to plant the Jatropha trees. The former oil mill built during my visit turned into a tobacco warehouse and burnt down some years later. Sad example of the challenges in Africa. 


ibee swiss renewable energy investment GmbH

Lehnstrasse 45a

Postfach 1031

CH-9001 St.Gallen



Heinrich Lüthi-Studer

Dipl. Betriebsingenieur ETH

Dipl. Energieingenieur NDS/FH


Tel. Büro 081 740 26 34

Tel. Mobil 078 621 78 82 

Verband unabhängiger Energieerzeuger VESE -

eine Fachgruppe der SSES, Heinrich Lüthi hat seit der Gründung bis 2022 im Vorstand mitgewirkt und ist Präsident der Regionalgruppe Nordostschweiz /

Empfehlenswerte Solargenossenschaften:

Genossenschaft Solar St.Gallen, produziert Solarstrom für über 400 Haushalte. Seit der Gründung 2012 hat ibee studer Projekte mit über 2000 kWp ans Netz begleitet und ist auch für den Anlagenbetrieb zuständig.

ADEV Energiegenossenschaft bzw. ADEV Solarstrom AG, Betreiber von über 50 Solarstromanlagen in der ganzen Schweiz, sowie Wasser-/Windkraftanlagen und Holz/BHKW-Wärmeverbünden. Hierfür habe ich gearbeitet, bevor ich in St.Gallen selbstständig wurde.