Sustainable energy access is vital to the eradication of poverty. I believe that by providing access to affordable energy, it triggers the domino effect of bringing light, clean water, tools of communication and learning, improving health, and allowing for the establishment and growth of small businesses. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stated when joining the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in 2012, “Ending poverty and ensuring sustainability are the defining challenges of our time. Energy is central to both of them.”
Today, about 75% of Kenya's population of approximately 41 million people reside in off-grid rural areas. The government is implementing an ambitious development blueprint, Vision 2030, which aims to transform Kenya into a middle-income economy by 2030. Its success hinges on the country’s ability to provide affordable and reliable electricity to roughly 40 million Kenyans in 15 years (based on a projected annual population growth of 2%). So, what is the most effective way to electrify rural Kenya?
According to a 2012 article in The Economist, “which plastic gadget, fitting neatly into one hand, can most quickly improve the lives of the world’s poorest people… over the next decade it will be the solar-powered lamp.” I too advocate for the increased use of solar lighting products. This will allow the money spent on kerosene to be redirected towards an eventual full electricity connection. Kenya has a positive reputation in the ease with which it adapts to new technology. Hence, we can expect a fast uptake of these solar products once introduced into the market. The World Bank is enabling this cause through its “Lighting Africa” initiative.
If this solution is scaled up, we can create positive change that will improve the lives of millions of people. The support of banks, microfinance institutions and M-PESA, our mobile money platform, lends credence to the viability of this solution. This is realized through offering customized hire-purchase packages that recognize that more than 50% of the populace survives on less than $1 a day.
I am also of the opinion that the provision of power isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a monopolized venture. It is a public service. I propose increased investment in small-scale, renewable, off-grid power systems – also known as micro-grids – to complement the government’s efforts to boost supply mainly through geothermal sources. The “Beyond the Grid” initiative is supporting this model in Africa by providing capital to investors.
In return, the Kenya government must provide the regulatory framework for micro-grids to thrive by providing incentives like attractive feed-in-tariffs and zero-rating renewable technology imports. The World Bank can support this by offering technical expertise and developing recommendations for financial models to sustain this kind of investment. This solution would make the biggest difference by supporting enterprises in rural areas.
I’ll conclude with the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth – these are one and the same fight.”
It’s time for Kenya to embrace this timeless universal message of change in order to eradicate poverty: Let’s give power to the people.