Why more people are going the solar way

By People Reporter
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019
Sola panel. Photo/Courtesy

More Kenyans, even those connected to the main grid, now prefer solar energy systems to hydro-electric power as the latter has become expensive and unreliable.

Snehar Shah, general manager at Azuri Technologies, East Africa, says because of the popularity of solar power, there’s a good reason to believe it will become the dominant source of electricity in the not-too-far future.

Already a number of Kenyans are taking advantage of packages from various solar energy companies to enjoy the benefits. One of them is Joachim Odhiambo, who almost lost his children to a fire that engulfed his home. 

One morning, he left home for work as usual, little knowing that day would mark a new life for him and his two children. 

Renewable source

At around 8pm, he received a call from one of his neighbours telling him his house was on fire. He immediately headed home to Kachola Village, Kisumu East sub county. From a distance, he could see people gathered at his compound. He could also see some smoke. 

“I was afraid my children were still in the house,” he says. Fortunately, they were outside, crying and sad to see their house razed.

“I later learnt that my firstborn son had accidentally hit a burning tin lamp (koroboi), which fell on cushions, causing the fire,” he explains. 

Although he managed to renovate his house with the little money he had, Odhiambo swore to never make the mistake of using a tin lamp again.  He chose solar energy and buought products from Solar Now at an affordable rate with the option for paying in installments.

“I no longer have to deal with soot, which caused health issues in my family,” he says, adding that his children are now at ease as they can read without difficulties. 

The grid-based electricity rate in Kenya is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa with a little over 80 per cent of the population lacking access to electricity.

Connectivity in rural areas is especially low and although the government has made a commitment to expand the grid aiming to achieve universal electricity connectivity by 2030, it has proved to be costly and complex to connect remote areas.

Currently, 70 per cent of the nation’s installed electricity capacity comes from renewable energy sources.

Around two million people are using solar energy and products and this figure is set to rise. Shah says this trend is informed by the fact that solar systems come as a package unlike electricity.

“With solar products, you get after-sale services for free and other products such as television, radio, torch and other items.

Besides, apart from the initial investment, you don’t top up any other amount in the future: that is why most people now use solar as a primary source of energy,” he says. 

There’s not just one driving factor pushing the increased popularity in solar energy other reasons are people want to save their money on utility bills, others want to help the environment, and to some using solar energy will be better for their health.

Such demand has made more companies enter the market with competitive deals. Greenlight Planet, the provider of Sun King solar, took their products to rural areas.

“This innovation helps customers enjoy convenient payment plans that involve a down payment of a fraction of the total value and choose to pay the remaining amount in installments.

Our lamps can serve for up to five years without any issues,” Greenlight Planet’s business development director for Africa, Patrick Muriuki says.

Solar for women

The payment can be done daily, weekly or monthly depending on the value of the product. Prices range from Sh400 upfront cost for lamps up to an initial deposit of Sh1,500 for a 32-inch solar powered TV set.

In its pursuit of women empowerment, the firm has nearly 2,000 sales women. “Women are the cornerstones of any family, even for those with a responsible fatherfigure. When you empower a woman, she impacts the lives of family members directly,” notes Muriuki.

Research also shows women in kerosene lantern households are nine times more likely to contract tuberculosis than homes using solar lighting. 

Often there aren’t enough daylight hours to allow children the study time necessary to succeed-something that disproportionately affects girls, who often carry significantly higher household obligations leading to high school dropout rates.

Azuri, also a pay-as-you-go solar home technology providing lighting and TV solutions to rural Africa, has lit 200,000 households. 

The number is expected to continue to increase as homeowners learn more about the cost-effective investment of installing a solar system.

 “There is a big market yet to be served by power from the main grid. This gives solar products enough room in the market,” Shah adds.

However, it has not been smooth sailing even with a bright future ahead. Proliferation of solar energy products gave way to substandard and cheaper products, making  companies lose many customers.

Shah is quick to note Kenyans are now becoming savvier when it comes to quality,  a move that has helped the industry fight substandard products.

“When buying solar energy products always go for the best quality because it will serve you for long. Always deal with a supportive team with relevant experience in solar distribution and installation. Carry out background checks for performance and durability of their panels,” he advises.- Additional reporting by Betty Muindi and Viola Kosome