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You can offer Kenyans free Solar Power and they still would not use it

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  • 3 years ago
  • Posted: April 7, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Solar Power in Kenya

Every day of the month and year Kenyans complain. I am not referring to insecurity (may the souls of the 148 students and staff of Garissa University RIP). Kenyans complain of Kenya Power. You complain of the frequent blackouts. You complain of the ever increasing high-electricity bills. Seriously, people, you know what Einstein said about doing the same thing over and over and each time expecting a different result? There is an alternative to Kenya Power that you all don’t want to use, it is called Solar Power.

Solar power is apparently an important thing, especially in the national strategic energy policy. Well, according to the Guardian, Kenya has identified nine sites to build solar power plants that could provide more than half the country’s electricity by 2016. Construction of the plants, expected to cost $1.2bn (£73m), is set to begin this year and initial design stages are almost complete. The partnership between government and private companies will see the state contributing about 50% of the cost. Over $500m had already been invested in solar projects in Kenya. Well, this has one economics professor excited at the University of Nairobi who apparently thinks that when the above-mentioned is finished and put to good use, electricity costs could go down as much as 80%.

Not to mention that a senior administrator at the Kenya Renewable Energy Association declares the move will protect the environment and bring down electricity costs. There were speculative media reports that the country’s government had suspended new licenses for solar plants and wind farms until 2017 and would focus on cheaper non-renewable energy sources instead in a bid to slash electricity costs. Insiders deny that this is the case. “There is no sign that there is any official moratorium, no high ranking official has said so. Kenya seems very much still open for business in this regard,” says Janosch Ondraczek, a researcher on solar energy in East Africa.

Ondraczek also points out that the government’s preference for wind energy over solar is considerable. Arguably, insufficient subsidies for solar projects have prevented the industry from really taking off. But for a sub-Saharan country with little funds to play around with for subsidies, it creates a difficult situation for uptake. However, the government has pursued a policy of ramping up off-grid solar production in rural areas as part of its 2009 Rural Electrification Master Plan. Since then, demand for PV panels is estimated to have risen by around 200 kW peak. Kenya’s Least Cost Power Plan (LCPP) aims to identify new generation sources to enable the national electricity supply to respond to demand, taking into account the 15% margin required to ensure its security.

What Needs to Change is Kenyans’ Attitude toward Renewable Energy, especially Solar Power

In Kenya, biomass accounts for over 70% of total consumption, mainly through charcoal and firewood used in cooking and lighting. Currently, the Kenyan energy sector is characterized by the heavy reliance on unsustainable biomass use, frequent power outages, low access to modern energy, over reliance on hydroelectricity and high dependence on oil imports. I get that, I really do, but I believe that the biggest impediment to adoption is our attitude, generally towards things. I am not saying that there aren’t outliers to that declaration! I must admit that Kenyans have a peculiar psychology, in the very sense that you can offer the best alternative of a thing and they still would not adopt it, and in some cases respond in a hostile manner to it, especially to things that they don’t understand or choose not to understand.

While the diffusion of solar home systems has been market-based for some years in Kenya, the proliferation of Solar Power in most other Sub-Saharan countries has been driven by government and donor-supported projects aimed at specific needs for electricity. However, the general trend is focusing on capitalistic tendencies. Kenya’s SOLAR PSYCHOLOGY is still not mature, usually being associated with poverty, carrying with it a certain ‘societal stigma’ where one is seen not to have the ability to engage in the more modern ‘ELECTRIC-GRID PSYCHOLOGY’. But, the trend is altering where the opposite is becoming the preferred course of things, most especially in other countries.

A few converts are alive in the country, but still, this STIGMA associated with using solar power in Kenya has got to stop; a complete shift in the overall mindset amongst Kenyans!

Understanding solar power is key

There are two main types of solar installations. The first and most common system in Kenya is a ‘Stand-Alone’ system which charges a battery bank, which in turn is used to power your electricity needs. A generator is usually kept available to back up the battery system.

The other type of system connects your solar energy system with the main electricity grid. This Grid Connect system allows you to feed energy back into the grid through your meter, for which in most countries you’d be financially rewarded under what is known as a “Feed in Tariff”. Kenya is yet to introduce such a feed in reward scheme, even on a 1:1 basis, which therefore means there is no incentive at this juncture to connecting your solar energy to the grid.

Solar Choice in Kenya states that a good solar system should sustain you for at least 20 years. If there was a wide adoption of solar power, the reactionary effect would be a deflation in the price of the same, which is a favorable state of affairs. So next time you’re nagging about your electricity bills, you might want to get a solar panel!

If current Solar Power Gadgets are for the poor, then wait for Elon Musk’s latest innovation

Elon Musk, my favorite eccentric billionaire with his quantum leaping ideas, is expected to launch his new product line that is set to revolutionize the concept of personalized energy solutions come the last leg of this holy month. Musk tweeted about this and apparently Wall Street listens because share prices were on a bullish run.

Rumors already have it that the latest from Telsa won’t be a car, but an all new battery pack that is touted to make those artery-snapping energy bills seem like a thing of the past and possibly and hopefully send all those utility companies ‘packing’? Get it, pun so intended, especially the infernal Kenya Power with their stone-age electricity practices.

Tesla’s battery can reportedly power your home and even help large-scale utilities store energy more efficiently. Home batteries are one of those energy sources that have often been talked about in the electronics world, especially in cities where power outages and brownouts are common, but which few people have found necessary to own. The Tesla product would most likely be aimed at homeowners interested in backup storage in the case of a power outage, or those who live far off the energy grid and would need to pay thousands of dollars (shillings here in Kenya to have electricity extended to them).

What is your opinion on the topic?
Stefan Wolf
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