Increasing Solar Energy Awareness in Kenya

Kenya is among the African countries that continue to lag behind when it comes to growth in solar energy. This is despite the fact that Africa in general has the best solar resource in the world. Kenya has immense energy challenges especially in the rural areas, characterized by low rates of access to electricity, lack of reliable transmission and frequent blackouts. Solar energy is therefore a means to provide the country with an opportunity to address these challenges.

Kenya, like her neighbours, enjoys a favorable location at the equator which allows it lengthy and constant daylight hours all year round and panels need daylight to work, not necessarily sunlight. Which raises the question, ‘What is holding the solar energy sector back?’ The answer would point to inadequate government support which precludes serious investment in the sector and lack of consumer education. Our rural population still rely heavily on kerosene for lighting and firewood for cooking of which solar energy is a great alternative they can use instead.

A number of plans have been developed that seek to prepare Kenya’s future energy needs. Such plans, like the “Least Cost Power Development Plan” are brilliant. The ideas they contain are progressive and quite innovative. However, they usually fall short when it comes to solar energy. They never dwell much on it, making it the forgotten child of renewable energy in Kenya.

China has a bigger solar energy capacity than any other country in the world. One of the ways China was able to soar to such great heights, was through government incentives. Our government can learn from this and be more dynamic in supporting investments in solar energy. They can ensure incentives such as tax exemption, speedy approval processes and suitable regulations are available to interested parties and provide a framework for private sector investment.

Consumer education and engagement is essential in creating awareness and promoting solar energy usage by Kenyans. Solar companies in collaboration with the government can aid in communicating the benefits and the staggering cost reductions which have been achieved by the solar industry. They can showcase how Kenyan farms, factories, offices and shops that have installed solar power are benefiting from clean and cheap energy.

One example of consumer engagement that can be emulated is the National Community Solar Partnership in the US. This partnership is aimed at expanding affordable community-solar access to every American by 2025. It is designed to empower government entities, nonprofits, businesses and stakeholders to implement affordable solar models that meet the needs of their communities. The partnership has paved way for the provision of technical assistance, tools and information to low-and moderate-income individuals and businesses in the US.

Another example is Napenda Solar Community, an initiative by Debs and Thiemo, the directors and founders of Africa Expedition Support. Based in Kajiado County, they have been advent solar power users and advocates for years. Through Africa Expedition Support they offer tourists, schools and university groups a unique solar power workshop where they learn about solar power. They learn how to design, build and install a solar power system in a poor rural community.

Such initiatives can be used to engage local communities, government agencies and even churches in carrying out community projects like solar street lighting, solar powered water pumps and lighting schools. In Uganda PV (Photovoltaic) technology and other renewable energy resources were inserted into the primary and secondary school syllabus as part of a school campaign to increase PV penetration.

The Kenyan government can pursue solar energy courageously and innovatively by bringing the society on board while coordinating effectively with stakeholders.