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Off-Grid Solar Saves Lives, Keeps the Lights On as Kenya Copes with Heavy Rains, Pandemic


Small, off-grid solar installations are saving lives and keeping the lights on in Kenya, after heavy rains cut into the reliability of the rural power grid and job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for many people to pay for electricity or fuel.

Kenya is already a country where one-quarter of the population, mostly in rural areas, has no access to the grid. But “with extreme weather and the economic impact of COVID-19 plunging many Kenyans into darkness, alternative energy sources are increasingly important—even for families connected to the grid,” the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports. “As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to climb in Kenya, the lack of reliable power can be a matter of life and death.”

“Without a power source, families facing an emergency are not able to keep their mobile phones charged to call us,” explained community health volunteer Pamela Mukami Njeru, whose job in the central Mount Kenya region includes taking patients with urgent health problems to and from hospital. “This is how having a solar unit which can supply power all day and night can save lives.”

Thomson Reuters opens its story with a capsule profile of Lucyline Wanja Silas, a 48-year-old farm worker in Gakunga who originally installed a 12-volt photovoltaic system to help her children study at night. Wanja “said she had not made any money since the country’s lockdown started in March, but the solar photovoltaic unit she purchased in January means she no longer needs to buy kerosene for lamplight,” the news agency writes. “She can also help others in her area who are without electricity,” for a fee of 20 to 50 Kenyan shillings (US$0.19-0.46). per charge

“There is no money out there,” she said. “I do not know what I could be using to buy kerosene if I had not installed this solar unit.”

Wanja bought the PV system when she was turned down for grid access in 2016, after officials decided she lived too far from a main road to be connected. Her main motivation was to protect her children from fire risk and toxic fumes from the household’s kerosene lamps.

“Now she has power through the blackouts, she saves the dollar a week she used to spend on kerosene, and her children can study safely,” Reuters writes. And “if more Kenyans switched to solar, the move could also help curb climate change.” A 2018 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute found the country could cut its emissions by the equivalent of 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by replacing kerosene, wood, and charcoal with solar.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 30, 2020 8:52 pm GMT

Do you know what size of storage capabilities these installations have attached?

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