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Clean energy lights up lives in western Kenya

Residents in Western Kenya have taken advantage of a range of solar energy options and saving huge amount of money from conventional lighting and cooking systems.
A recent visit by People Daily in the region found out that thousands of residents of Kakamega County and beyond its boundaries, in Siaya, Kisumu and Busia counties, thousands of households were turning to off-grid lighting connections, while others were adopting solar energy cooking and farming options.
In programmes designed to respond to the United Nations’ observation that current levels of energy consumption and production are not sustainable especially at the time when demand is rising, clean energy companies have placed thousands of solar lamps, water pumps and energy-efficient cookstoves in the hands of consumers.
The UN has consistently stressed the importance of using energy resources in a way that aims to protect human health, the atmosphere and natural environment.
In Mavinda village of Kakamega County for instance, Zainab Muranda expresses delight that since she acquired an ethanol fuel-powered cook stove, she has been able to saves around Sh1, 000 a month she could have used on either firewood or charcoal, for cooking.
It cost her a total of Sh5, 700 to acquire the environmental-friendly jiko, called the Safi Gas Cooker that has provided a further solution to indoor health hazards associated with pollution.
Although required to pay Sh300 weekly after an initial deposit of Sh1, 500 out of which Sh1, 000 is for the cook stove and Sh500 to cover the cost of fuel, this switch to clean energy has saved the mother of 6 children, man hours looking for firewood.
We are counting more savings here. We have also cut other hidden costs in the name of constant use of soap and water cleaning hands after lighting a firewood or charcoal cook stoves,” she told People Daily.
She plans to transform what was once a kitchen into a store for dry food stuff and other extra household items. Muranda is a beneficiary of NewLight Africa Limited programmes as a product neutral, last mile seller of solar lights – which includes pay-as-you go – and other socially and environmentally progressive products including fuel efficient cook stoves, solar phone chargers, solar laptops, and water purifiers among others.
About 2 kilometres from Muranda’s homestead, Catherine Wakhu, a mother of eight children was happy to showcase how a new solar lantern works.
The 3-centimetre long Omnivoltaic pilot x (ovPilot x) mounted on a compatible 25-centimetre high stand, is designed to have key functions in one compact package. Despite its size, it produces bright light even during the day.
Newlight Africa Limited found out that lighting and cell-phone charging were considered the most important entry electric energy applications for these base of pyramid consumers when it was designing the light four years ago.
Newlight Africa Limited Head of Sales Global, Jakob Werner told People Daily that a small investment will bring about huge improvement of quality of life, as well as substantial benefits in replacing fuel-based lighting, and to improve cell-phone usage in rural areas.
In this part of the country, where on-grid electricity coverage is still a challenge, Werner said phone charging is often a major barrier to continued access to information flow.
With 8 hours of 60 Lumen (lm) light output from a single day’s solar charge, it is the brightest product of its class. The built-in lithium battery is capable of charging a typical cell-phone and provide adequate light,” added Werner.
Wakhu’s seven school-going children can now do their homework up to 11 pm, and still wake up at 4am for morning revision before going back to school.
In the past my children could not study beyond 9pm. Most of the times, the kerosene lanterns could go dry before finishing their homework. This could force them to go to bed early and in darkness. Besides seeing the reduction in pollution from the kerosene lamps, we have also witnessed improved school marks,” she said.
It takes up to 5 days after it is fully charged, she said. According to Wakhu it can still be used to charge up to 10 mobile phones every day. This alone, brings extra money to her household on top of her sales of the solar lanterns as one of Newlight Africa Limited’s agents.
Women in the chamas I manage, bring home more money compared to the past from their small businesses,” said Rukia, a leader at Vumilia Women Group, one of the several self-help rural women entities in Kakamega County who have christened themselves Smart Thinkers.
She took a one-day training to become one of the Newlight Africa Limited’s agent. Wakhu confessed that she has made good money selling about 30 boxes of the solar lantern locals call the “digital light”. And for a woman who only depended on a one acre piece of land where she eked a living to feed, clothe and educate her 8 children, making Sh6, 000 from every box is a huge economic progress.
I deposited an initial Ksh2, 200 being payment for one lamp but they gave me 10 that I pay Sh300 per week installments for 10 weeks to cover the required cost for pieces at point of delivery,” she added.
The light can be bought incrementally at US$3 (Sh300) per week over a period of 10 weeks.
For the company, solar lights are an important part of their plans, through its foundation upon which their customer base is recruited and, distribution strategy built.
Our model is also to provide a mechanism for extending access to finance opportunities that the rural poor would have difficulty gaining access to. We use the customer for life concept through which we also sell improved cook-stoves, small solar home systems and water tanks on credit,” Werner added during an interview.
NewLight Africa which trades in Kenya as Heya is a last mile distribution and asset financing company targeting the base of the pyramid rural customers. The project aims to provide pay-as-you-go financing for entry level clean energy products as it attempts to reach the ‘subsistence’ segment of the bottom of the pyramid market.
These are people who are living on less than a dollar a day,” he added demonstrating why the company was partnering with Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund’s (AECF) Renewable Energy and Adaptation to Climate Technologies (REACT) Window 3 programme.
In the programme, Newlight Africa Limited’s plans are aimed at removing any remaining barriers to replacing toxic dangerous kerosene lamps with solar LEDs in Africa. It has already sold over 10, 000 lights with promising month-on-month growth a few months since it was launched.
The company is using software development to optimise Agent Based Networks.
The AECF provides catalytic funding to enterprises in 24 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Newlight Africa Limited is one of those innovative commercial businesses it supports. The Fund also supports such projects that cover agribusiness, renewable energy and adaptation to climate change technology sectors with the aim of reducing rural poverty, promoting resilient rural communities and creating jobs through private sector development.
Pauline Mbayah, AECF Director of Strategy & Partnerships told People Daily that the organization’s key focus is to address market failures by plugging in the gaps where government and other private sector players cannot reach. This is especially in the agribusiness; renewable energy and adaptation to climate change technology sectors with the aim of reducing rural poverty, promoting resilient rural communities and creating jobs through private sector development.
However, the AECF, she said puts money in the private sector where partnering companies prove they can leverage what is invested.
We invest subject to research. We put money where no one has bothered to invest. As AECF, we identify companies that do environmental friendly products that are quality and capable of addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These companies must also demonstrate that they can leverage with the same amount of money we provide on interest-free grants,” she said.
Mbayah told People Daily, the AECF finances businesses with potential to change rural market systems to benefit the poor.
In 2015 alone, AECF benefitted 10 million people through some of Africa’s most innovative companies for early stage support.
The conversation on how people are going to access quality reliable energy products both off-grid power connections, agribusiness and cooking in Nyanza and Western Kenya regions, she said was growing and needed attention.
While Victor Ndiege, the Portfolio Manager for REACT at the AECF says increasing access to low cost clean energy products and services in the rural markets have become integral for the organisation.
He said AECF invests in businesses that are seen as high risky and those that struggle to meet traditional risk-return standards for commercial investors but ones that offer significant impact on poverty alleviation by creating jobs and sustainable incomes.
For every US$1 (Sh100) in AECF investment results in approximately US$8 (Sh800) in development impact,” Ndiege added.
Businesses are provided with grants in staged payments against contractually agreed targets and contribution of matching funds. Since inception AECF has disbursed US$91.2 million (Sh9.12 billion).

 

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