Giving Compass' Take:

• Lincoln Wilcox examines why solar energy independent units are taking off in African countries that lack the resources for vast electrical grids.

• How can solar and other clean energy sources appeal to western nations that do have a well-integrated electrical grid?

• Read about the impacts of solar power on healthcare in Uganda.

For many people in sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of access to reliable electricity is a hard problem to ignore. Almost 80% of businesses with electrical access experienced power outages in the last year, accounting for more than 25 days worth of lost economic activity on average. Even greater costs are born by more than 600 million people who live without access to electricity at all.

Although governments in sub-Saharan Africa have expended many resources trying to build electric grids similar to those used in other, wealthier countries, electricity production and distribution just isn’t good enough to meet the needs of many individuals and businesses. However, an unlikely solution has begun to emerge: solar energy. During the last decade, it has taken off in the region. M-Kopa, a solar power company that started operations in Kenya in 2011, has provided electricity to more than half a million homes and connects more than 500 new homes every day. Kenya’s renewable energy sector already employs 10,000 people—nearly as many as the traditional power sector—and that total is expected to double in the next four years.

Instead of creating a vast grid made up of many standardized subcomponents, M-Kopa sells independent solar energy units which include a solar panel that directly powers charger outlets, lights, TVs, and refrigerators, all of which are designed and manufactured by the company. Because M-Kopa controls the entire production process of the systems it sells, its engineers can design them with its customers’ circumstances and priorities in mind, improving performance and reliability. Customers can own a solar home system for just a $35 deposit, followed 365 mobile money payments of just 45 cents.

Sometimes even a solution that has struggled to gain momentum in many wealthy countries may be the one best suited to solving the problem.

Read the full article about the African advantage in solar energy by Lincoln Wilcox at the Christensen Institute.