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Solar power to light up rural homes in Kenya

Collins Kinoti and his partners are working with a Chinese firm to make an affordable lamp for people far from main grid

Collins Kinoti’s performance in primary school was not impressive. When he was enrolled into a boarding school to pursue his secondary education, he began to do well.

Kinoti from Meru noticed his lacklustre performance in primary school was caused by the fact that he had limited time to study at home because they used kerosene tin lamps. In high school, the flicker of electricity made a big difference.  In 2012 when he joined Moi University he decided to research on ways he can light up rural public schools, which didn’t have the privilege of being connected to the main grid.

                Motivated

During research he came across an article on solar energy and how it has helped millions of people.   

“I realised that most solar-powered lighting systems were a bit expensive for a common mwanachi. This motivated me to go back to our village to find out if the villagers knew about solar power,” he says. Surprisingly, 90 per cent of the villagers knew about solar energy and they were willing to use this energy and do away with kerosene lamps, but less than five per cent could afford them.

Armed with these facts he approached Sammy Mwiti, a village mate and also his role model and shared with him the idea of starting a solar-energy business.  “I wanted to come up with a business that will sell high quality affordable solarpowered lighting systems. This was a bit challenging considering that I couldn’t manufacture my own system,” he says.

After a long discussion with Mwiti they decided to partner with a Chinese company that would be tasked with manufacturing the systems after they complete the design process. Since they were from different fields, they had to incorporate Andrew  Baariu who is an electrical engineer. “After coming together we decided to come up with the most affordable solar light in the world. We designed our first product, SM100 solar lamps. We sent the design to China and our partner there was impressed,” he says.

Their company SolarPoa East Africa Limited was founded in 2015, registered in 2016 and certified by the Energy Regulatory Authority with a mandate of manufacturing or importing solar lights products. They invested Sh1.3 million to start the company and also to have their first products shipped.

                Certified

“Our first shipment of 4,000 lamps was received last year. The product was well received in the market, but since we wanted to benefit rural public schools we donated some to Gatuntune Primary School,” he adds. The SM100 is the most affordable, certified, entry-level light currently available in the market. It combines an extraordinary compact, versatile design with a long lasting lithium iron phosphate battery, creating a multi functional light that meets the basic lighting needs of families living off the grid. The product has also passed the Lighting Global Quality Standards.

Third party test results verifications of the product are also available. “The lamp goes for Sh600, but you don’t have to pay cash as we accept instalments .We also want to initiate a pay-as-you-go platform for the product so that it will be readily available for all people,” he adds. Apart from the lamps, the company has also introduced other solar products such as solar suitcases and other Solar4Health medical devices, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) home solar systems, solar security lights, motion sensor security lights, solar swimming pool heaters and solar water pumps. However, Collins says increase of counterfeit products in the country has been a challenge since some people are importing low quality solar products.

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