E4D Project Establishes Community-based Solar Systems in Africa

The University of Southampton is leading an international project to provide sustainable electricity supplies to rural communities in Africa. The five-year “Replication of Rural Decentralised off-grid Electricity Generation through Technology and Business Innovation” or Energy for Development (E4D) is a multi-institutional research programme, that aims to establish and implement replicable, off-grid electricity generation, based on a solar photovoltaic (PV) storage system, which promotes development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Energy 4 Development_University of Southampton

The PV system and trading centre in Makueni County, Kenya.


Funded by the Research Councils UK and the UK’s Government Department of International Development, the multi-disciplinary research, which incorporates community and government participation, encompasses social, technical, economic and cultural knowledge generation that allow such projects to be recreated in rural communities across the world. 

The E4D project will develop a community-based mini-grid solar electrification system aimed at invigorating village trading centres (TC) by providing electricity directly to businesses, which in turn, provide charging for electrical appliances, such as LED lanterns for lighting and for mobile phones, to the rest of the community. 

This is the concept of the Kitonyoni village market solar project established in 2012 in Makueni County, Kenya. The project displaced the use of candles or kerosene used for lighting within community households and businesses, which is expensive and has negative health effects. By working closely with the villagers, the E4D team established an economically sustainable approach, whereby the community is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plant. 

Income is generated for the cooperative, also set-up as an energy supply company (ESCO), through membership fees, local sales of electricity and share ownership. Such income covers all the running costs of the project and provides finances to the community, as well as contributing to the recovery of the capital cost of the project. Together, E4D engineers, local contractors and villagers were able to assemble the containerised 13.5 kWp photovoltaic solar plant and the mini-grid within one week. The premise of the modular project design is to make it easier to replicate and resize to suit villages of different size and requirements.

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, Head of the University’s Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) and the Principal Investigator on the £2.6 million project, comments: “We estimate up to 3,000 local people can now benefit from electrical energy provided by the project. The school, health centre, churches and the 40 businesses have round-the-clock stable electricity, allowing them to extend their working hours and provide additional services such as information technology training, tailoring, hair dressing as well as the charging facilities. Additionally, the solar canopy of the PV system was designed to act as a rain collector, enabling water storage and sale by the cooperative to the community throughout the year.” 

Prof. Bakr Bahaj in Kenya

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj (right) talking to Stephen who opened a shop in the trading centre about a year ago.

Professor Bahaj comments: “The transformation of trading centres is very clear: land prices have more than doubled, at least five new buildings have been completed, new businesses started, businesses’ income has in most cases more than doubled and most importantly, a new maternity ward is now operational. 

“The challenge now is to reduce capital costs and embed the concepts and models in other communities. The latter is now being done in a second project in Kenya, another in Cameroon, with other projects being planned in Mozambique and other African states. There is now strong interest from governments and the private sector to adopt our approach, as well as from international funding agencies, to provide substantial funding to support the concept on a larger scale.”

3 Responses to “E4D Project Establishes Community-based Solar Systems in Africa”

  1. Thomas Fofung Tata November 9, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    Dear Sir,

    I have just read about the E4D Project Establishes Community-based Solar Systems in Africa. That is a very interesting project that can benefit millions of people living in local communities that have no access to electricity. I am interested in knowing more about the project, especially where in Cameroon, that it has been initiated as well as the contact person(s) so I get in touch with them to discuss possibilities of extending to other parts of the country. I am Cameroonian living in the North West Region the country.

    I wait to having more information on the project.



    • Kate Berrisford November 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Dear Tata

      You can find more information about the project by visiting the Energy4Development Project’s website at: http://www.energyfordevelopment.net/
      The project is coordinated by the University of Southampton. Their email is e4d@energyfordevelopment.net

      Kind regards,

      the Green Africa Directory

  2. Nathan Reeves August 8, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    The Kitonyoni Village Market project is very commendable. If Africans must take charge of their economy, it needs to come from SMEs who affect the daily lives of the majority of Africans that are poor. By providing this kind of stable and clean power around the clock for them, they have the opportunity to develop themselves into better market practices.
    Liberia shares the same energy need with Kenya (if now more than that of Kenya). There are many villages that would not see grid electricity in the next 15 – 20 years to come. There are towns and villages who have never known/used electricity in their life time; though we are in the 21st century.
    The Center for Sustainable Energy Technology (CSET) as a research and developmental organization, has all relevant information regarding areas of the country that such a viable project will produce the desired impact.
    Once again, let me commend and thank you for the work done in the interest of humanity.


Leave a Reply