Solar electricity and light is making people safer and richer in rural Kenya, opening opportunities for new businesses to form and work later into the night by supplementing a national grid with more reliable power.
“For us, investing in the solar project is a double win,” said Embu County Governor Martin Wambora. “Solar energy is cheaper to maintain in the long term and puts us in solidarity with the world’s push for a global green economy.”
The Thomson Reuters Foundation tells the story of Violet Karimi, a widow who works her farm all day—but can now leave her three children home at night to study by the light of a solar lantern, then take her products to an open-air market for sale.
“On a good day, she said, she can bring home as much as $30—at least three times as much as she could sell in a shorter evening, before the lights made longer trading hours possible,” Thomson Reuters reports.
“Customers want to shop in the evening because that is when they leave work,” she said. “The solar lighting has encouraged them to stay and buy as long as they like.” And the added visibility makes it safe for Karimi to hire a motorbike taxi to take her home. “The streets are well lit with solar energy, and so I am not afraid of traveling at night because there is security,” she told TRF correspondent Kagondu Njagi.
Bar owner Joe Njiru “pays $10 a month to the Embu County solar microgrid, but makes five times as much from his bar business,” TRF reports. Instead of mostly leaving the establishment by 8 PM, he said many customers now stay past midnight.
“Every day there were blackouts in the evening because that is when people with illegal connections would interfere with electricity as they tried to switch on,” Njiru said. “Customers could not stay long because they feared to be mugged on their way home.”
Solar isn’t as attractive an option for a more energy-intensive operation like a laundromat, TRF notes. But in general, “development partners should come in and support solar microgrids with finances so that they can be able to expand their generation and storage capacity,” said Solafrique Ltd. CEO Lois Gicheru. “Solar advocates say that with solar lighting established, Kenya’s counties should now focus on generating enough power to run businesses,” Njagi writes.
Some of that activity may be on the near horizon, with Kenya and the World Bank negotiating a $150-million off-grid power project.
“The government of East Africa’s biggest economy is building more power plants as it targets a tripling of capacity to 6,766 megawatts by 2020, from about 2,327 megawatts. Most of the new capacity will be from renewable sources including geothermal,” Bloomberg reports. “Construction of the solar-and-wind project is expected to start by mid-2017,” serving consumers in the remote northeast who now depend on diesel generators.