Africa is in the midst of an energy revolution. The solar market is transforming a continent where three out of four households lack electricity. Even those lucky enough to have a grid connection suffer frequent power outages and pay electricity costs 5-10 times higher than the U.S. average. Lack of electricity holds back a continent with unlimited potential -- but its citizens are choosing a new, brighter path. We are halfway through a decade that may hold the fastest energy shift in human history: mass market adoption of solar in Africa.
Sometimes innovation takes seed in places where it is needed most. The primary approach to solar has historically been to complement electric grids. Building an alternative to the grid using solar plus storage was only viewed as a niche market. This is because storage-based “autonomous” solar systems were more expensive and more complicated than those that provide power back to the grid. Smart engineering and scale production has changed the equation. A new generation of plug-and-play solar plus storage systems offers exceptional performance at very attractive prices.
Solar plus storage is about to eat the world, and the revolution is starting with customers who lack a viable alternative. African consumers are adopting complete solar plus storage energy systems at a staggering rate. Innovative companies are taking advantage of declining costs in solar, storage and LED lighting to provide more energy for less than ever before. Some, like Off Grid Electric, are taking this a step further, providing low cost financing via mobile money making solar cheaper than existing energy budgets of the poorest households.
As I write this at the end of 2015, we have the technologies and business models to reach nearly every home and business in Africa with affordable and reliable solar energy by the end of the decade. At Off Grid Electric, we are lighting the lives of over 50,000 people per month and we have already seen entire communities go solar. By 2020, we could see tens of millions of people go solar across the continent.
To get there, we need some help. We need governments to actively support low cost solar leasing as Tanzania’s government has with its Million Solar Homes initiative. We need the best and brightest young African leaders to join solar innovators and build wealth within their countries. And we need the international community to provide the low cost finance required for an effort of this scale as part of the climate agreements this December in Paris. Programs like the DFID Energy Africa initiative are a clear sign that the international community sees the opportunity and is ready to stand behind it.
It is going to be an exciting next five years, and a very bright decade for a lot of people who have lived without power for a long time.