We were thrilled to announce last month that our first two microgrid solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, outfitted with the innovative new Renewvia mobile payment platform, were successfully up and running on the Islands of Ndeda and Ringiti in Kenya’s Lake Victoria region.

Microgrids in Sub-Saharan Africa
Microgrids in Sub-Saharan Africa

Eric Domescik | Renewvia Energy Corporation

Can you briefly describe Renewvia Energy Corporation?

Renewvia is a top 500 Global Solar Developer headquartered in the Atlanta, Ga. We design, install, own and operate commercial and community solar power systems, along with providing a complete range of solar energy solutions including turnkey solar installation, integrated financing and solar consulting services. Since 2008, our team has developed over 75 megawatts (MW) of power across three continents, with arrays varying in size from small 5000 square feet commercial buildings with 50 kilowatt (kW) systems to industrial spaces with 2.5 MW of solar power, solar farms providing up to 60 MW of renewable energy and several solar microgrids.

 

Over the past decade, Renewvia has been largely focused on industrial and commercial solar facilities in the United States. How did you end up developing microgrids in sub-Saharan Africa?

A couple of years ago, we expanded the commercial solar side of the business overseas with projects in Uruguay and Guam and developed our first microgrids in Marinas Islands. However, being selected by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) in 2016 for two solar projects really upped our footprint and focus on sub-Saharan Africa. These projects consisted of a $959,390 USD feasibility study for 25 new microgrid sites totaling 5 MW of power in Nigeria, which we completed earlier this year, and a $728,000 project for eight microgrid plants and 1.5 MW of reliable electricity in rural Kenya.  We are in the process of completing the Kenya project, which includes a feasibility study and the construction and management of all eight facilities.

We were thrilled to announce last month that our first two microgrid solar photovoltaic (PV) plants, outfitted with the innovative new Renewvia mobile payment platform, were successfully up and running on the Islands of Ndeda and Ringiti in Kenya’s Lake Victoria region.

Microgrid PV facility on Ringiti Island

 

What went into the construction of these facilities?

Solar panels and inverters are widely available in sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s not the same case when it comes to batteries and charge controllers. We imported these items from the United States to ensure the highest quality equipment was used at these facilities. In addition to import tariffs and navigating customs, the deployment of microgrids into remote parts of Kenya is challenging to say the least. For example, once you arrive at the small lakeside town of Uyawi, it takes 45-minutes by boat to reach Ndeda Island, and Ringiti, the larger of the two islands, can only be reached by a two and a half-hour boat ride from the lakeside regional hub of Mbita, near Kenya’s southwest boarder.  We chose these islands in Lake Victoria for two simple, but important reasons: (1) we had developed strong relationships with, and received buy-in from, both island communities; and (2) if we’re successful under these logistical constraints, we can replicate these systems pretty much anywhere!  

To give you a clearer idea of what was involved, we transported materials to the islands on small boats, and all of the equipment had to be unloaded and moved to the sites without forklift machinery.  Both Ndeda and Ringiti are also composed primarily of rock, so reaching the necessary ground depths to securely install the distribution power polls and piers for the ground-mounted solar panels had to be completed manually.  And while this process was labor intensive, we were able to contract locally, and it was these community members who were key to anchoring the PV panels and distribution polls and in constructing the adjacent powerhouses materials found on the island.   

 

How much can each microgrid power and what type of impact are you seeing?

In June 2018, we commissioned the 10 kW solar and battery-powered plant on Ndeda and in August, we turned on the 20 kW facility in Ringiti. In addition to being the first safe source of energy available, we developed these facilities with the capacity to reach the islands’ nearly 10,000 residents and businesses, whose only sources of power before were burning kerosene or petrol or the use of disposable batteries. Within the first few weeks of turning on the power, dozens of businesses and individual subscribers had signed up to pre-pay for power through Renewvia’s new mobile payment system that we created in partnership with MPESA and the Commercial Bank of Africa.

 

What’s next?

Since partnering with USTDA, Renewvia has more than tripled its Atlanta workforce (with plans to grow this year) and opened offices in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, and we are exploring over 100 solar microgrid development sites in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. 

Microgrids can be developed for between $200-300 thousand per 100 kW (depending on what power distribution and storage is required), but this is about more than just designing and building microgrids. With Ndeda and Ringiti, we piloted and proved our model for sustainable development of microgrids across sub-Saharan Africa. Prioritizing community engagement upfront and throughout the process, each facility includes a continued revenue stream from individual community inhabitants and local businesses through Renewvia’s mobile payment system.

The scalability of our model has caught the attention of private equity investors, the oil and gas industry, World Bank and others. In fact, just recently, we signed a deal with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), in partnership with Barclays Bank of Kenya, to develop four microgrids with Renewvia’s mobile payment platform. Covering 50 percent of the cost for two sites and 80 percent for the other two, we aim to commission these facilities next June 2019, which will expand access to electricity in several rural villages and refugee camps in northern Kenya.

 

 

About Eric Domescik
Eric Domescik is co-founder and President of Renewvia Energy, an Atlanta-based renewable energy developer and solar power plant operator that designs, installs, owns and operates commercial and community solar power systems, along with provides a complete range of solar energy solutions including turnkey solar installation, integrated financing and solar consulting services.

 

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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