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Obama puts billions into Sub-Saharan Africa's microgrids

15 Jul 2013

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama announced a series of programs to improve electrification in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The package includes $7 billion in government funding, plus an additional $9 billion in private sector commitments. The goal is to double the number of people with access to electricity, as currently less than a third of the region's residents have access.

By way of comparison, the U.S. smart grid stimulus funding that had such an impact on the sector was only about $4.3 billion. The countries of Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania will receive nearly four times that much.

The challenge is made more difficult by the fact that most of the countries in the region have low population densities. Their residents are widely dispersed with no access to a national grid. As a result, the Obama initiative includes grants “to develop or expand the use of proven technologies for off-grid electricity benefitting rural and marginal populations.” Likewise, the private-sector commitments also include “installation of 200 decentralized biomass-based mini power plants in Tanzania.”

Since many of those mini-plants will not be able to hook up to a national grid, they will devolve into microgrids by necessity.