In Kenya, micro grids are boosting access to electricity for rural communities

In Kenya, businesses are looking to broaden access to energy by fusing micro grid technology with the significant uptake of mobile phone payment systems.

Margaret Mwangi runs a salon in Kenya. With her business not connected to Kenya’s main grid, she makes use of a local solar micro grid operated by smart metering technology business SteamaCo to get electricity.

SteamaCo says that it operates in nine countries, serving 3,000 homes and businesses, using mini grids as well as biogas digesters and solar irrigation pumps.

“I just have to use my phone, and go through M-Pesa (a mobile phone payment and money transfer system),” she told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy. “I put the amount that I want – as low as 50 shillings ($0.48), and onwards up to 1000 – depending for what I want to use.”

The town of Entesopia is now the site of an eight kilowatt solar micro grid, which provides electricity to roughly 65 households and businesses. The micro grid is helping to smooth the transition from expensive, polluting diesel generators to cleaner, solar powered grids.  SteamaCo’s Lumumba Lameck explained how the micro grid system works.

“Power is primarily generated by solar panels, it has an inverter which converts power from direct current to alternating current,” he said. “We have a battery bank that, during the day, when the sun is a lot, some of the energy is… stored for night time use by the customers,” he added.

“It has a system that allows the customers to pay as they go using their mobile devices, and… the providers like ourselves are able to monitor remotely without necessarily having anyone on the ground,” Lameck went on to add.

As well as helping businesses to trade for longer, the micro grid is also changing the lives of young people, including student Celestine Periperi. “We used to have a kerosene lamp at home, it… hurt my eyes and I couldn’t study after the sun went down,” she said.

“Now that we have the solar lamp I’m able to do my evening homework and I’m improving my grades at school.”