By Henry Owino (ScienceAfrica Correspondent)
Today one of the outstanding socio-economic developments noticed in almost every Kenyan County initially reputed as marginalized, is solar powered flood-lights and applications. These areas for close to 50 years have remained off-grid.
Solar technology companies are bringing light and electricity to the off-grid homes, businesses, and revolutionizing life for millions of Kenyans.
The counties today boast of solar energy flood-lights at market centers, streets or pathways while villages shine with portable solar lamps in households. Simple technology needs sunlight energy to charge batteries using solar panels.
Residents in these formerly neglected regions blame their underdevelopments on lack of electricity supply. Nevertheless, with the advent of renewable energy, solutions to various off-grid problems and setbacks to development have declined remarkably because of solar power.
For the very first time, a remote village of Hawinga, Alego in Siaya County, Western Kenya, is boasting of solar floodlights in market centers and pathways. They illuminate so brightly at night that residents’ security is boosted reducing thuggery cases.
Joyce Adongo aged 56, hails from this area and admits the solar lights have boosted security in the area. Cases of women being raped, people mugged and murdered have reduced. As renowned trader in vending used or second hand clothes, Adongo spends more time in the market than before.
“Initially, hardly a week would elapse before a woman is raped or a man is brutally murdered. Nowadays, we close between 8 or 9pm and take a ride on motorbike to my residence in Hawinga, 5km without fear of attack due to solar powered floodlights,” Adongo explains.
“I have longer hours to sell my merchandise and no fear of hurrying home before dark. Even at home, I have portable solar lamps which lights on with a turn of a button,” Adongo brags.
Adongo claims at the market, there are both solar and electricity powered lamps. So, even if electricity from the Kenya Power and Lighting Company goes off or fluctuates, solar powered lamps are there as the backup even in the market places. Majority of shopkeepers also have alternative portable solar lamps as businesses nowadays close at 10.00pm.
For Mary Achola, the solar powered lamps in the streets and market have enabled both traders and customers do businesses until late hours in the evening. Customers linger in the evenings and traders make good use of the late hours.
“We maximize on floodlights in market to sell while at home we use solar lamps hence spending less on kerosene,” Achola says. We used to close at 6pm to cut on kerosene cost, insecurity threats, and lack of customers at late hours, she adds.
The solar energy has also created job opportunities for young people who run small and medium businesses such as welding, barber shops, salons, phone charging stalls, video show rooms among others. A few who had heavily invested in large scale are using solar powered water pump for irrigation in their farms to grow crops and trees.
Jack Ogoma, 32, is a motorbike operator and owns a barbershop. His second entrepreneurship came as a result of emergence of renewable energy. He says solar power offered him another employment opportunity.
Ogoma says many young people operate motor bikes making it very competitive with slim profit margin. However, he nowadays closes at 10.00pm as opposed to initial 7.00pm.
“I operate motorbike and also offer barber services depending on demand until late hours because of security enhancement by these solar street lamps. Before then, I could close at 7pm due to high insecurity challenges but nowadays we extend,” Ogoma explains.
Elsewhere, Margaret Adhola says the number of pedestrians have recently increased in the evenings due to solar floodlights in the streets. Livelihoods in remote villages have also changed for the better as solar lights offer more business hours.
“Since I got solar lamp, I have not used kerosene tin lamp in my house. I am allergic to its emission, as the smoke irritates eyes and gives me a runny loosely with mucus,” Adhola complained.
Bernard Mboha, Energy Expert, Siaya County Government confirms that solar floodlights are part of the key County initiatives that help ensure security, 24 hours economy while residents enjoy fruits of devolution they yearned for years.
A visit to Segere Secondary school, students are able to revise after dusk or dawn using portable solar lamps. Yet some students are elated, especially exam candidates, who can now full-board in the school.
On the ground, Science Africa Correspondent caught up with John Odima, a Form Four candidate waiting for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), national examination in November 2018. He is optimistic of passing his examination with flying colours as he has been working very hard courtesy of solar lamps offering him time to study at night.
Odima admits solar lamps have also been of great help in his private studies at home. He says the lamp just needs sunlight heat to charge and that is abundantly available. He explains when fully charged, it lasts for eight hours, so he doesn’t need to recharge it on a daily basis.
Odima describes the solar lamp as the best source of renewable energy technology he has never thought of. The lamp is portable, affordable, light in weight, clean, renewable energy and non- inflammable hence safe.
“I used to spend Ksh 160 thus 2 liters of kerosene per week to revise and do my assignments. Sometimes I could not if my parents wanted to save on kerosene, again it could spill or pour accidentally and burn books,” Odima laments.
“Since we bought the solar lamps, no more budgeting for kerosene, itching eyes caused by irritating fumes of the kerosene lamps, longer hours of study and my academic performance has really improved,” Odima explains.
“I am sure of joining University to pursue my career dream of becoming a lawyer.” He added.
Residents use these solar gadgets to charge their mobile phones freely at home instead of market centers for Ksh 10. It’s convenient to monitor and receive calls for many mobile phone subscribers.
Martin Odhiambo is a fisherman and frequently uses mobile phone to communicate to his customers. He has lost 5 phones as a result of market place phone charging. However, he says when he heard of solar mobile phone charger, he never hesitated to purchase it.
Odhiambo is among the first people at Ugambe beach in Siaya County to own solar mobile charger after many years of frustrations. He bought it from M-KOPA, a Safaricom mobile phone Company together with other appliances.
“The M-KOPA distributors at the lakeshore advised me on how to own, package their solar products and the benefits. I didn’t have enough money but we agreed payment by installment basis,” Odhiambo explained.
“I gave out Ksh. 3000 as deposit and paid off the remaining amount at a rate of Ksh. 50 daily for 12 months. At the end of it all, I owned appliances that included four solar led bulbs, 5-in-1 phone charge cable, radio and torch. It has been economical, no regrets to date,” Odhiambo affirms.
Today Odhiambo’s family owns an off-grid solar television set where they watch news and other programmes. He brags of being up to date with current affairs and more so politically informed while his house lights up brightly on sustainable solar energy.
According to Meshack Ouma, M-KOPA dealer, M-KOPA makes high quality solar affordable for everyone. By offering the mobile installment method of paying for solar energy, the company has pioneered a better way to supply safe power to millions of off-grid homes.
“Customers buy the solar home system on an affordable M-KOPA payment plan, with an initial Ksh 3000 deposit followed by daily payments of Ksh 50 for up to one year. After completing payments package, customers own the product outright, with multiple bulb lights, sport-light, phone charger and radio,” Ouma explains.
Siaya County residents now say solar powered products came with blessings, wealth and employment to the most impoverished region in the country. It offers the best solution and account for least carbon emission.
Currently, people in on-grid areas are turning to solar energy because it is reliable, convenient and no power fluctuations.