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Solar Lighting vs Kerosene Lighting in Rural Areas: Research

From the latest Lighting Africa Reports, only 5% of the rural Kenya is connected to the national grid with the majority of the population lacking access to modern energy services. Most Kenyan households depend on traditional biomass for cooking and kerosene for lighting.The total population of Kenya is estimated at slightly over 40 million with 77% living in rural areas.


With that as a basis, a research on the use of Pico PV solar systems versus the use of kerosene lighting in rural homes is ongoing courtesy of Strathmore Energy Research Center (SERC). The study involved interviewing households that use solar systems with research households drawn from Central, Western, Lake Victoria, Rift valley and Eastern regions.


In November 2012, the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) issued SERC with a directive to carry out a two-year research on solar lighting. NACOSTI, the face of the government in science, technology and innovation in line with Vision 2030 usually receives approximately funds worth 1.2% of government GDP for research and innovation projects; out of which SERC was awarded Kshs. 5 million grant, in two phases.


To mark the mid-way mark, SERC organised a workshop that brought together all stakeholders including; NACOSTI, GIZ, SNV, KIVA, solar lanterns manufacturers, entrepreneurs, technicians, and Skynotch Energies to discuss the progress made in the study so far.


The study was divided into three aspects:

Financial Aspect – This involved reviewing financial institutions, systems and support schemes for solar lighting.

End-user survey -This involved interviewing end-users and tests their Pico-PV products; factors such as performance of lanterns in rural locations were considered.

Distribution Chain Aspect-This involved the socio-economic impact, the benefits enjoyed by businesses that use solar lighting.  



200 households were interviewed from a population of 20,000 households provided by GIZ EnDev programme as having acquired solar lanterns in the past 24 months.

The study found that a majority of the respondents (96%) use solar system as a primary source of lighting, this being an indication that there is a high level of awareness on solar as a clean and alternative energy source. Additionally, of the households interviewed, only 3% had electricity as a primary energy source; the cause of this being low-level of connection to the grid and low affordability of costs associated with connection to the national grid.


Majority of the respondents (57%) bought the existing solar system through cash, (40%) of the respondents bought through credit terms and only (3%) used check-off system .When asked whether they would like to upgrade/replace the solar systems, 85% were willing to upgrade and even acquire a better solar system than the one they currently.


Majority of the respondents (40%) were willing to pay Kshs. 2,500-7,500 in order to acquire new solar systems with more features than the ones they had. The end-users have shown the willingness to use solar exclusively, while those with integrated solar systems with only one lighting point were willing to acquire a multi-functional solar system that had more than one lighting point, for example that can power a small radio and has a mobile charging capability.


Benefits of using solar lighting

There are several benefits accrued from using solar as a source of clean and free energy. When asked about the benefits, 66% of the respondents indicated that solar energy helped in saving money used to purchase other forms of energy such as kerosene for lighting, dry cells for radio and also charging mobile phone. Savings made could now be channeled to other needs. Additionally 17% of the respondents indicated they had benefited, in that their children being able to read using brighter light, which does not affect their eyesight. 13% indicated less health problems in the household after abandoning kerosene as a primary source of lighting. 3% of the respondents indicated increased security owing to its good quality light and finally,  2% indicated that solar energy is not only clean energy but also safe hence less accidents/burns.


The study also shows that owning a solar system in itself is also viewed as prestigious by all in a rural set-up.


Existing obstacles

The study noted a number of obstacles towards the attainment of solar systems in the market which included;

  • Affordability
  • Lack of awareness
  • Quality of the solar system
  • Technical support offered to the end-users.


The study so far indicates that though a sizeable number of households that use solar lighting the use of  kerosene as a secondary source of lighting  continues at a much lower level in comparison with times prior to acquisition of a solar system. Low economic status impedes affordability of the solar lighting systems to light up all rooms in the house, the study revealed.


In order to change this landscape, there is need to focus on promoting solar products highlighting the benefits of the existing solar products to users. Most of the end-users are ignorant with regard to warranty issues hence a risk on technical support for the defective systems. Further, capacity of technicians should be enhanced in repairing solar Pico-PV systems.


Most end-users buy solar systems on cash basis because of lack of awareness on renewable energy financing products hence limiting the purchasing capacity of users.


Creating awareness on presence of financial institutions which offer Portable Solar Lanterns loans is necessary in order to improve financial literacy.