Feb 15, 2017

Powering Kenya through Solar

Access to electricity is considered a very prestigious thing particularly in rural Kenya where majority of the population have no access to the grid. While the Kenyan government has taken step to ensure access to electricity, majority of the rural population and people living in informal settlement still have no access to the grid.

Access to energy enables countries to improve the living conditions for its people. Key benefits include lighting streets to reduced crime, providing energy to manufacture goods locally, as well as cleaning and pumping water throughout the country.

An energy deficit can stunt a country’s development, particularly in Africa where an estimated 70 per cent of people in sub-Saharan African are without reliable access to electricity. However, there is a ray of hope and now more and more people are moving to create create their own off grid solutions to power homes and small businesses.

According to International Energy Agency projections, almost one billion people in sub-Saharan Africa will gain access to the grid by 2040, but by that time 530 million will remain off-grid, almost comparable with the 600 million who cannot access power today.

Sustainable energy for all (SE4ALL) estimates one billion people in the world are without access to energy and 2.9 billion relying on unclean energy sources in developing nations. Over 90% of Kenya rural household still rely on kerosene lamps for lighting in spite of being classified as a high adopter of micro-solar home system kits and solar lanterns. The local kerosene tin lamp, commonly known as ‘Koroboi’ still exists as the main lighting technology or as an alternate in-case of a blackout, extra-demand or complement existing clean sources of lighting technology.

According to a study commissioned by the Kenya Climate Innovation Center on the solar market in Kenya to expound and clarify underlying facts for a successful sustainable business model, Kenya has abundant solar energy resources. The report also indicates that Kenya has become a hotbed for the solar photovoltaic (solar PV) market, place.

Although the sector started with donor driven initiatives in the 1980s, today a vibrant private sector driven market exists. It is estimated that about 25,000 – 30,000 solar PV products are traded annually in the Kenyan market and that at least every household has owned at least one solar PV product.

Despite the increasing adoption of solar PV products by consumers coupled with the attraction of a large number of market players, the sector is prone to some challenges. These barriers range from policy, personnel, financial, technological, and consumer related challenges. The Government policy does not specify a role of solar PV for Solar Home Systems in “pre-electrification” of areas proximate to the grid. Unlike Tanzania or Uganda, Kenya does not also provide incentives or subsidies for household solar PV systems. This has limited the extensive adoption of solar TV.

The sector is also experiencing challenges from solar technicians who do not have formal skills, yet they have connections with solar distributors and retailers who sub-contract them. These ‘behind the scenes’ operations are contrary to the government regulations which require that only licensed technicians are allowed to design and install solar PV systems; and to be licensed, technicians have to undertake a solar training course, gazette solar PV regulations 2012.

Although PV technology has advanced tremendously in the last decades, there are still several sociotechnical barriers to adoption for instance, in Kenya, various fake solar PV products have infiltrated the market.

The high cost of solar PV modules is also a barrier. Since these products are distributed by retail networks, additional cost is added by middlemen, and this is felt by the end user. As such, this creates an economic burden to bottom of the pyramid households. 

However, the market potential for solar PV is excellent in Kenya for a number reasons that echo across East Africa. Key supporting factor among them is the reducing trend of solar PV products such as panels and batteries and continuing to increase the affordability of the product to more middle-income Kenyan. Tax exemption to solar PV products has similarly reduced product costing.  The growing credit financing of solar PV product has enabled gradual payment hence cushioning customers from high upfront costs that have led to a low adoption of the technology for decades.






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