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SERC Partners with Oloishibor’s Community to Form Nairobi (ACP-IDN) Energy Project

NAIROBI (ACP-IDN) – Nestled in the dry Kajiado County, one and half hour drive from Kenya’s capital Nairobi is the Oloishibor Community Energy Project, an oasis of light in a remote hamlet. It was started in 2009. A brainchild of a community based organisation established by the local pastoral Maasai Community.


Simon Parkesian, the Energy Project’s manager says the community had been facing a myriad of problems ranging from poor health, education to economical. The situation was compounded by lack of electricity.


As a result, members decided to start a cost sharing programme of installing solar panels on roofs of their houses. With institutions such as a schools and a dispensary being put up at Oloishibor, the community sought help initially from United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to put up solar panels and wind turbines for large scale use. Support also came from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which installed more wind turbines and solar panels.


The community was able to provide electricity to the local primary school, a dispensary and a church. It also provides power to a rescue centre for girls from the community fleeing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced early marriages rampant among the pastoralists in Kenya.


“The project has been of tremendous help to the community. We do phone charging, some 50-70 phones every day, offer photocopying, printing services and internet service. The performance of pupils in the local is good owing to availability of light which enables them to read at night,” says Parkesian. At the same time the local dispensary uses the power not just for lighting but also keeping vaccines under refrigeration.


Houses near the energy project are also connected with power and owners pay a monthly fee that foots salaries and general running of the project. “Households pay Kenya shillings 500, while the institutions pay Kenya shillings 1, 500,” says Parkesian. Women groups in area also use the power to do craftwork for export.


The solar panels generate six KW with the wind turbines generating another six KW. Parkesian however observes that high cost of maintenance, lack of spare parts, and unavailability of technicians within the locality are challenges that the project faces.


He says the project’s future is bright. They have started training youth in the community on renewable energy. The community is also considering installing a milk coolant given to preserve milk, which goes to waste for lack of storage facilities especially during the rainy season.


Some 12,000 people benefit both directly and indirectly from the project. The Oloishibor Community Energy Project is just but one of the many successful off grid renewable projects harnessing solar and wind energy to improve the lives of communities not reached by national power grids in Africa. The energy project is a partner of Kenya’s Strathmore University’s Energy Research Centre, a leading institution in promotion of off grid renewable power adoption.


Izael Pereira Da Silva, Kenya’s Strathmore University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and a renewable energy specialist says the university established the renewable energy research centre four years ago and is keen to transform it into centre of excellence in Africa.


He says the centre collaborates with Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission Authority (ERC) and has lobbied for policy changes to encourage growth of the renewable energy sector in Kenya. The centre trains technicians on installation of hybrid power systems (wind, solar and even fossil fuel powered ones). Da Silva says they intend to expand their services to the East African region.


Anne Macharia, an engineer at Strathmore University Energy Research Centre says the university is already heavily investing in solar energy research and development.


The lab’s main role is research and testing the quality of solar appliances. “Kenya and most Sub-Saharan countries lack capacity to test the quality of solar equipment. Tests are done for a fee against manufactures settings in line with KEBS standards and reports are published.


They also undertake on-site tests for already installed solar units for customers. Anne says the centre will test large units in future for currently its capacity is small. The centre is the only one in the region undertaking solar energy equipment testing.


Da Silva is highly optimistic about off grid renewable energy prospects. He states that in five years’ time, renewable energy sector in the East African region will be booming. “In Kenya a new bill on renewable energy stipulates that 60 percent of water heating should be done using solar energy. Opportunities are thus immense,” says Da Silva. He adds that the worse aspect of poverty is energy poverty; it affects education, agriculture and industrial growth.


During the third International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference (IOREC) organised by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Nairobi on October 1-2, 2016, it emerged that power cannot be extended to everyone solely through national electricity grids.


Participants noted that off-grid renewable energy solutions are crucial to achievement of universal access to electricity in Africa and other developing regions of the world.


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Note: This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, a flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.