First Solar, Powerhive Plan Microgrids for 200,000 Kenya Homes

After two years of operating solar-powered microgrids in four remote villages in Kenya, First Solar Inc. and Powerhive Inc. are committing to a major expansion.

Powerhive expects to offer electricity to more than 200,000 homes in Kenya from off-grid solar systems, the Berkeley, California-based microgrid developer said in a statement Wednesday.

Just 23 percent of Kenya’s population had access to electricity in 2010, according to World Bank estimates. The pilot projects reached more than 1,500 people who paid for the energy with their mobile phones, proving the viability of a business model that First Solar and Powerhive now plan to expand.

“It will enable us to cost-effectively reach tens of millions of people in rural villages unserved by grids while offering strong risk-weighted returns to investors,” Powerhive Chief Executive Officer Christopher Hornor said in the statement. Kenya has more than 44 million residents.

With Powerhive, homes and local businesses in rural areas will be able to purchase power for tasks including milling corn, incubating chickens and charging batteries.

First Solar, the biggest U.S. solar panel producer, made an undisclosed investment in Powerhive in 2013 and Marc van Gerven, vice president for global marketing, sits on its board.

“Our support of Powerhive stems from a belief that we need to transform the world from being energy supply-driven to demand-driven,” van Gerven said in the statement.

The companies didn’t disclose the cost to build the 80 kilowatts of capacity for the four pilot projects, or what users pay.

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