When Jackline Mumbua decided to go solar, she knew the cost would be steep. The 35-year-old housewife in Machakos, Kenya, can barely cover the expenses of raising three school-age children on the little money her husband earns driving a motorcycle taxi. They have no savings. It took her family nearly two years to pay, in monthly installments, the $55 for a small rooftop solar panel.
When it finally arrived last September, they hooked it up to four lightbulbs — one in each room, and a fourth as a security light over the front door. Her 8-year-old daughter was so excited that she ran and gathered all the neighbors. They sang and danced in the illuminated front yard. Mumbua felt overjoyed. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about whether she had enough money for paraffin candles to avoid eating in darkness. Now she could think about taking a job during the day and saving her chores for night. Now they had a security light. Now her kids could finish their homework.
That’s where the solar Africa story usually ends. It’s the kind of optimistic story that President Obama will tell when he visits Kenya on Friday. He’ll be promoting his signature Power Africa initiative, and within that, a program called “Beyond the Grid,” which leverages a billion dollars in private investment to market renewable energy products — and low-cost financing to pay for it — to rural Africans.
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