Aug 11, 2017

Study tour to Gorge Park Energy Farm and Solinc East Africa

As energy demand on the farms continue to rise with the setting in of modern farming techniques, the conventional power sources are continually becoming inadequate and costly. There is, therefore, need to innovatively come up with alternative technologies to serve the rising demand.

A farm in Naivasha, has however endeavored to scale the heights in the utilization of farm waste in an anaerobic digestion process to produce clean energy.  A group of 17 clients from the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) went on a learning tour to two companies in Naivasha. One was a biogas plant while the other a solar manufacturing company.

The Gorge Energy Park in Naivasha is a marvel of renewable energy technology. The Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant produces more than 2 MW of electricity from the farm plant remains. The capacity qualifies it as Africa’s mother of grid-connected biogas technology.

The project is as a result of a working partnership between Vegpro Group, the primary users of the energy generated; Tropical Energy, the EPC arm of the project; and Biojoule Kenya, the leading operators of the plant.    

Just like how a cow eats plant-based food, the system is fed with finely chopped feedstock from remains of the farm’s 706 hectares vegetable farming activities.

Although the park’s core objective was to service the energy needs of the farm, including heating its greenhouses, its output level is currently in surplus. The excess power is sold to Kenya Power. To put it in perspective, the total power output is enough to power 12,000 standard Kenyan households.  

The success story has had its fair share of challenges. According to Christopher Macharia, the plant engineer, six months into the launch of the project, the team thought they had done everything right, but it was taking a bit too long for the plant to start producing methane. “We thought we were not feeding the system enough matter,” noted Macharia.

They multiplied the amount of plant waste they were feeding the digester. The microbes were overwhelmed by too much feed, which killed them. They had to start all over again. The lesson learnt was they had to be patient with the biological AD system.

Financially, the initial investment for the project was about $7.5 million. The computed payback period is seven years. Two years into operations, the project is well on course to recoup its investment.   

The second visit was at Solinc East Africa Limited which is the first solar product manufacturer in East Africa. The company assembles and distributes solar panels and home systems solutions kits such as batteries, phone chargers, LED lights among others.

Under the guidance of Gamaliel Ochieng and James Wandai from Solinc, the tour of the company was a mix of precision and an orderly system. From the cutting, smoldering, stringing, assembling and testing of the products, the company works in shifts to ensure quality and maximum output.

The company imports raw materials such as glass panels which are used to make a variety of products. The biggest panel is 300watts. Currently the company serves clients such as Voltmax, Safaricom’s Mkopa, Mobisol among others.

From an environmental perspective, Solinc is sustainable. The company tries to minimise its footprint by running on solar water heaters, collecting rainwater and supplementing their energy demands through solar energy.

The business has not been without hurdles. Competition from Chinese manufacturers comes into play as cheaper products flood the market. However, the company has had an added advantage of having quality products, warranty services and the close proximity of its dealers.

Established in 2011, the company is keen on achieving its target of serving more than five million customers by 2018.

Going forward, the winning energy generation technologies will be the ones that not only produce energy, but are sustainable with regards to running cost and sensitivity to climate change adversities.

 

Steve Kanili and Mercy Mumo

 

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