Kenya steps ahead into solar future


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For Africa’s poorest families, lighting is often the most expensive item in their budget, typically accounting for 10–15 percent of total household income. The energy poor in Africa spend about US$17 billion a year on fuel-based lighting sources. To put the full energy sector in perspective, independent estimates place worldwide spending on fuel-based lighting in developing countries at $38 billion.

Beyond household use, commercial use of fuel-based lighting can have even more acute economic impacts. Fishermen on Lake Victoria in Kenya, for example, often spend half their income for the kerosene they use to fish at night. Yet, while consuming a large share of scarce income, fuel-based lighting provides little in return. Fuel-based lamps, such as kerosene lamps, are costly, inefficient, and provide poor lighting. The smoke they emit causes respiratory and eye problems, while the flames from kerosene lamps are responsible for thousands of severe burns among children every year, along with untold numbers of devastating house fires.


But many African countries are making strides to put fuel-based power behind them. Kenya, for example, as I discuss in an article this week posted on InterPVNet, has one of the largest and most dynamic per capita solar PV markets among developing countries, with over 300,000 households having installed solar PV systems since the mid-1980s. Since 2000, annual sales for these systems have regularly topped 15 percent, and they account for roughly 75 percent of all solar equipment sales in the country. In addition, exciting and rapid developments in off-grid lighting with highly efficient long-lasting light emitting diodes (LED) lamps are also changing the set of options in formerly neglected markets.


The rapid spread of this off-grid green energy solution in a low-income country is all the more remarkable as it is propelled by unsubsidized market demand. With Kenya’s electricity grid largely dependent on expensive hydropower, only 5.2 percent of rural households use electricity, and most of these are relatively well-to-do.


Solar is a comparatively low-cost alternative, especially for families whose poverty puts grid-based electricity out of reach. Manufacturers and importers have noted the business opportunity and are coming up with products that they say will fill the gap. They are focusing on affordability, the green agenda, and renewability of power sources.


With Kenya’s government having set 2017 as a deadline for the country to make significant advances in green in power generation, the stage is set for the solar PV sector to deliver household systems to a national market that is intended to be able to absorb a million of them a year, according to the International Finance Corporation. An education campaign has also been launched to encourage people living in rural Kenya to adopt solar lighting.


Dubbed Zonga Mble na Solar (Stay ahead with solar), the campaign targets 13.5 million people, both households and small businesses, in rural Kenya. It shows how by switching from fuel- based lighting to modern, solar lighting rural people can improve their health, increase their savings. households typically spend about 10% of their income on kerosene and benefit from better lighting and more productive time in their homes, schools and businesses.


"The main argument for people to switch from kerosene lamps to solar light is an improvement in their children’s health and education: the solar portable lights emit no fumes, and provide better illumination for studying. Longer producing hours for businesses is another winning argument,'' says Nana Asamoah Manu, Country Officer for Lighting Africa, which is supporting the campaign.


The campaign, which runs to end of 2011, is staging road shows in market towns, to generate consumers’ interests in the solar portable lights that passed Lighting Africa quality tests. The road shows are attracting crowds of 300-500 people every evening, and are packed with product demonstrations, fun quiz, dance shows and a chance to try the solar lights.


"People are enthusiastic,'' says Nana, `"but the major obstacle is the relatively high upfront cost of solar lights. Many families can afford to spend 20 to 50 shillings a day on kerosene, but are struggling to find 2000 shillings for a solar lamp''.


Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, is working with microfinance institutions to secure loans for rural households and businesses willing to buy solar lamps. The program is also exploring light rental schemes as another option. The program is implemented in partnership with the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), among others.







Daniel Kammen

Former Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Join the Conversation

January 17, 2011

That is definately the way to go. It is good for the country and is a product they can sell.

DIY Solar Power System
January 18, 2011

It is amazing to see these go-ahead developments in a country such as Kenya. Until households and industry in the most highly populated areas of the world (India and Asia in particular) are using solar power and wind turbines to generate electricity as a matter of routine, the world will not change much in terms of carbon outputs and the bad effects of this.

DIY Solar Power System
January 18, 2011

The high prices of the components of solar power systems is just one obstacle to the mainstream adoption of alternative energy for households. A lack of knowledge and know how is also an obstacle. Hopefully initiatives such as this, in Kenya, will dispell some of the ignorance and inspire people to make a plan to install solar lights and other solar-powered devices.

LED Bulbs
January 18, 2011

The argument to switch to LED lights in Africa is even more pursuasive than it is in North America.
You tend to forget that many people are still using kerosene lamps. I am glad the LED industry is making great strides and actually bettering many peoples lives.

Desire Balazire
January 19, 2011

The project is good. Yes, it is a strategy for reducing proverty but not for the development of the country.

The reason that are given : "The main argument for people to switch from kerosene lamps to solar light is an improvement in their children’s health and education: the solar portable lights emit no fumes, and provide better illumination for studying ... or ..Many families can afford to spend 20 to 50 shillings a day on kerosene, but are struggling to find 2000 shillings for a solar lamp'' shows that the project is good for peeple who are are living rural zone (area).

The campaign has to continue because people to not calculate well their expenses. We can undestand if they live with the daily revenue but this is the job of micro finance to help them saving money and help them to know the advantage to spend a big amount today and saving money tomorrow that can be invested in other small wealth projects.

I do not think that the solar energy can be used for industries, the rail way, oven...

Studies have to be done by taking in account the potential of Africa for the hydropower. How Inga (in DRC) can help to solve the problem of energy in africa?

krishna moorthy
January 20, 2011

It is quite encouraging to learn about development of off grid power source in Kenya.
In India also, we have ambitious plans for solar power but we started with more emphasis on grid connected.

The main issues faced in India are high cost of equipment and meagre economic viability. Hence, demand for government support.

Instead of looking towards developed countries for solutions, countries like India, kenya have to develop home grown solutions and also build capabilities to quickly augment the capacities for manufacture of equipments and development of various products meeting the local needs.

LED Bulbs
January 23, 2011

I listened to an interview a few nights ago on CBC radio with a chap in Kenya who illegally hooked up electricity to people who could not afford the electrical bills. It was quite a wide spread issue and there were a lot of safety concerns .

With so few people on the grid, it shows the immense demand for alternatives such as solar, and the most energy efficient sources of light which are LED bulbs.

nicholas karira
March 04, 2011

this information is very exciting for me. i work with CBO based in eldoret town where we deal with renewable energy of solar and bio gas. on our own we have been able to educate the public on the advantages of renewable energy. we have secured a loan of ksh.600,000/= which we shall use to buy solar lamps directly from china. the market is ready. we have sourced for lamps that we sell for 1,250/= and the rural population is very pleased. we plans to buy a van and equip it with a PA system. this we will use to carry the lamps and visit rural areas in western kenya and the North Rift during market days. wish us luck. we would appreciate advise, support or any partnership.

Bob Graniere
March 08, 2011

A solar lamp as the replacement for a kerosene lamp is a fine program. What I am wondering about is the difficulty involved in the purchase of the solar lamp. The price of the lamp is placed at 2000 shillings, and the daily expenditure to run the kerosene lamp is estimated to be within 20 to 50 shillings a day. The blog also indicates that the people are able to make these payments that enable them to purchase the needed kerosene. But, at 50 shillings per day it would take 40 days or 1 1/3 months to pay off the lamp without interest of course. At 20 shillings per day, it would take 100 days or 3 1/3 months to pay the lamp retailer without interest. Programs to charge zero interest on car loans have been used several time to stimulate these sales in developed countries. Identical programs for other household durable equipment have been in place over the years. What is stopping such a program in Kenya? I imagine the real obstacle is a credit risk. However, this risk can be fully mitigated by a non-onerous credit enforcement mechanism that is supported by the local governmental authorities.