SERC wins award to build capacity to unlock solar potential in East Africa

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Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) won an award from Innovate UK to develop a two-year project with SolarisKit, to create a center of excellence for solar thermal installation using the world’s first flat-packed solar thermal collector. Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This center of excellence will harness the potential of solar thermal technology in Kenya, Rwanda, and sub-Saharan Africa in meeting its heating needs. Globally, solar thermal technology provides a way to address the energy trilemma by reducing consumer energy costs, improving energy security, while lowering carbon emissions through heating. However, the current solar thermal technology penetration across sub-Saharan Africa remains low at 0.5 percent. 

In East Africa alone, wood and charcoal remain heavily relied upon to meet the demands of heating, leading to negative effects on the environment. Further, the continued use of wood and charcoal has led to increased deforestation, contributing to 10 percent of global warming and poor health conditions such as respiratory infections when used indoors, and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, the use of electricity for heating is expensive for households and businesses and substantially increases the demand on the grid, resulting in carbon emissions where fossil fuels are used.

Some of the key barriers of adopting solar thermal technology in East Africa include: high cost and complex installation, difficulty in transportation, and lack of suitable and well trained technicians to install and maintain solar thermal technology. The local manufacture of solar thermal collectors also requires significant capital investment. 

The solar thermal collector

To mitigate this challenge,  the project will develop the following key components, over the next two years, to enhance the penetration of solar thermal technology in East Africa. This will be implemented while reducing the impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which need to be halved to reach net zero by 2050.

  • Create a complete solar thermal system comprising of SolarisKit’s low-cost easy-to-install flat-packable solar thermal collector, and a plastic piping hydraulic kit to lower system costs.
  • Test a new lower cost DC powered solar thermal pump controller compatible with high efficiency pumps, improving system performance while further reducing system cost.
  • Install demonstrator systems in Kenya and Rwanda.
  • Establish a center of excellence housed at Strathmore Energy Research Center for training solar thermal installers.
  • Conduct a targeted behavior change campaign to raise awareness on the use of solar thermal solutions in East Africa.

 

The solar thermal collector developed by SolarisKit is the world’s first flat-packable solar thermal, a unique device which has a lower manufacturing cost, easier to transport, and simpler to install; addressing key barriers which have prevented the adoption of solar thermal technology. The intelligent, low-cost solar pump controller developed in this project will be suitable for global solar hot water applications, with the ultimate goal of reducing global greenhouse emissions linked to heating.

The SolarisKit solar collector is manufactured flat-packed for assembly on site, reducing shipping costs and challenges. It is small and light enough to be installed by a single person, making it much easier to install than current solutions in the market.

This project is funded by UK Innovate, under the Energy Catalyst Competition, and is led by Ignatius Maranga. 

 

This article was written by Anne Njeri Njoroge, Communications Officer at Strathmore Energy Research Centre.

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