From river current to electricity

Providing a sustainable power supply for rural Africa

Small-scale power plants – planned, developed, financed, built and operated by a responsAbility-managed company – are providing a sustainable power supply for rural regions of Africa.

Demand for electricity in Africa is soaring because of economic expansion and population growth. Between 2000 and 2014, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa achieved average annual growth rates of 5% and experienced a level of economic prosperity not seen since the 1960s.

However, an inadequate energy infrastructure means that the continent is chronically underserved. Around 600 million of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa still have no access to electricity.

Average electricity consumption in Sub- Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is 150 KWh per capita, compared with 12,186 KWh in the USA. And African manufacturers must contend with power outages equivalent to an average of 56 days per year.

The natural resources needed for energy production (biomass, water and the necessary river gradients, geothermal heat, wind, and solar radiation) are available in abundance in Africa. It is often called the 'Sun Continent' given its abundance of sun and potential for solar power.

A responsAbility-managed company is developing, financing, constructing and operating small- and medium-scale renewable energy projects. The objective is to ensure a sustainable supply of renewable energy at fair prices while providing stable long-term income for investors.

The Nyamindi power plant project on Mount Kenya is one such project. An entire social engagement team from responsAbility is ensuring that the Nyamindi project gains the support of the local population.

There is water in the Nyamindi all year round and the river has the necessary gradients to produce electricity. From September 2018, this site will be home to the Kiamutugu hydropower plant.

Joseph Ng’ang’a (left), responsAbility's Executive Director for renewable energy investments in Africa, with Patrik Huber, responsAbility's Regional Director Sub-Saharan Africa. Building power plants in Africa requires a team on the ground and knowledge of local practices.

Local promoter Stephen Nyaga says he has been battling for more than 10 years to have the Nyamindi used for hydropower. In 2003, the engineer from Mount Kenya called on Kenya’s parliament to end the state monopoly on the production of electricity. The relevant legislation was passed in 2008.

responsAbility is being approached by people like Stephen Nyaga to take over part of the project. In return for the development rights, the community will be granted ownership of part of the electricity produced by the Nyamindi cascade.

Once construction works at the Nyamindi starts, there will be job opportunities for the local population, either in the form of direct employment or in supplying workers with catering and other services.

responsAbility originally wanted to buy into 50% of projects in the market and to develop 50% of them itself. But when the team started actively targeting the market, they saw that the scale of the preparations still needed was enormous.

A total of four small-scale power plants with a total capacity of 26 MW are being built on the Nyamindi river. It is planned that they will jointly generate 150 GWh of renewable energy each year – enough to supply power to 200,000 African households, given the average consumption of 150 kWh per capita in Africa.

It will take time for the river to produce its first electricity but much has already been accomplished by those responsible for the project. responsAbility hydrologists have been collecting data on water levels and flow rates since October 2015 as a basis for the feasibility study.

Producers of hydroelectricity can sell the power they generate for USD 0.08 per KWh over a period of more than 20 years. The production of hydroelectricity can easily be adapted to daily energy needs, thus stabilising the electricity network.

The greatest benefit of the Nyamindi project for the local population is that power plants stabilise the local electricity network, which only then becomes attractive to consumers.

Farmer Willis Gachiri and his wife want to get connected to mains electricity to power a mowing machine, lights for his home (where their daughters study) and a television. At present, Willis charges his mobile phone at a neighbour’s house once a week at a cost of USD 0.20.

Read how a responsAbility-managed company is providing a sustainable power supply for rural regions of Africa in the full ‘From river current to electricity’ case study.


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