Can Women restore Kenyas Faith in Solar Power?
As a child, Daphin Juma would rush home every day at dusk. The Huruma slum in Nairobi was and still is a dangerous place at night.
When the sun goes down, the rest of the city slowly lights up, but pockets of poverty such as the informal settlement where she lived for 16 years stay dark, save for the dull glow of kerosene lamps.
Now a solar engineer and entrepreneur, part of an ambitious program to revolutionise the participation of women in clean energy, Juma doesnt forget what it feels like to do your homework to the flickering light of a lantern. I want to make sure that everyone has at least some lighting at home, she says.
Kenya enjoys over 3,500 hours of sunlight every year, but despite booming energy demand the uptake of solar panels in Kenya remains low. The governments development plan for the next 20 years foresees solar providing just 1% of the energy mix. For comparison, coal is expected to provide 9% of the total, while geothermal energy will account for 60%.
Researchers have put this down to poverty and general lack of public financial support, but that is only part of the story. Inadequate technical support to the households that choose to go solar is also a barrier.
The Women in Sustainable Energy and Entrepreneurship (WISEE) collective was founded to bring light where Kenyas national grid doesnt stretch. In partnership with Strathmore University Energy Research Centre (SERC) and USAID, the program offers free training and mentoring for women who wish to start a hands-on career in the sector.
It also addresses a stark gender imbalance in solar engineering. After realising that poorly trained technicians were leading to a proliferation of dangerous and short-lived solar photovoltaic systems, the Kenyan government introduced a compulsory licence. In 2014, out of 257 licensed technicians serving the whole country, only six were women.
Things are changing and WISEE is expanding the options for women. Over a ten-day crash course, trainees learn to design a solar system according to the specific needs of each customer and troubleshoot it. They get a certificate and additional support if they wish to obtain the licence that will allow them to practice in the field.
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