Engineer Edwin Keverenge, 26, quit a well-paying job to start Greenwize Energy, which distributes energy saving stoves in slums and rural areas. He spoke to Maureen Akinyi

Tell us more about Greenwize Energy...

I realised many households in Kenya cook using charcoal or kerosene. We know that cutting of trees for charcoal has contributed to serious deforestation in the country. In the rural areas, they use firewood and it is young women who look for it. As they venture into the forest, they endanger their lives because they can be raped by herders and they also miss out on crucial hours of studies.

 Another reason why I was inspired to do this is because I learnt that after malaria and HIV and Aids, the leading cause of death for children in developing countries is exposure to fumes, smoke and soot from indoor traditional cooking.  With clean energy, people are assured of high quality of life. That is what Greenwize offers.

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Can you shed more light on the energy problem in Kenya, which jolted you to action...

Statistics show that in Kenya, 85 per cent of the population use firewood to cook. Most of these people live in the rural areas. About 44 per cent of urban dwellers cook with kerosene while 13.5 per cent use charcoal. The stoves used are inefficient and emit dangerous fumes due to incomplete combustion of the charcoal.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than three billion people cook using traditional fire and stoves, burning biomass fuels like wood and charcoal. Because these traditional cooking methods cannot achieve complete combustion, most of the heat is wasted and the biomass is converted into toxic substances like carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde.

Tell us about the health implications of this...

The resulting indoor air pollution (IAP) kills over two million people every year. That is one person every 20 seconds. Over 85 per cent of IAP deaths are women and children under five years.

So, how does Greenwize address the problem of clean energy?

Greenwize Energy distributes products that reduce pollution and energy dependency while yielding health, environmental and economic improvements to both rural and urban populations. We distribute stoves that offer a solution to the energy problem. In partnership with Envirofit International, we supply wood and charcoal stoves.

How do these stoves work?

These stoves utilise a metal alloy chamber as opposed to a ceramic one. Using this low-cost durable metal allows the chamber to be designed with features that can’t be done with ceramic chambers.

By enclosing a majority of the chamber, some of the heat radiated from the charcoal is reflected back onto the coal bed. This reflected heat rapidly increases the temperature of the charcoal and the amount of heat that is transferred to the pot, leading to dramatically lower fuel use. Because it allows complete combustion, virtually all of the carbon monoxide that a typical charcoal stove would release is eliminated. This significant reduction allows our charcoal stove to meet the Shell Foundation Benchmarks for carbon monoxide as well as the WHO carbon monoxide standards.

Our stoves guarantee:

•     Upto 80 per cent less smoke and harmful gasses.

•     Upto 60 per cent less biomass fuel.

•     Upto 40 per cent reduction in cooking cycle time.

•     Durability.

How do you distribute the stoves?

The stoves (both charcoal and wood) are available from our store in Nairobi.

We also have outlets in the Rift Valley where we sell them to communities around the Mau Forest to help reduce deforestation.

We plan to open other stores across the country. We sell them both individually and to institutions in bulk.

Who does Greenwize energy target?

The rural, urban poor and slum dwellers. Since the stoves require about 60 per cent less wood and charcoal than traditional stoves, they ensure savings on money spent on energy (cooking). We work with corporate organisations, companies and non-governmental organisations to help needy households acquire the stoves.

How has the project transformed lives?

Our distribution has so far changed lives in Nairobi’s informal settlements like Korogocho and Kibera slums where cooking is mostly done using kerosene and charcoal. We have also helped reduce deforestation significantly in areas around Mau Forest.

What is the feedback on these stoves?

Users have told us that the stoves are efficient, less smoky, use less firewood and are compatible with the cooking styles for many Kenyans in urban and rural areas.

Most of them have reported improved efficiency in cooking and use of less charcoal thus cutting on energy costs.

Where do you see Greenwize in ten years?

I envisage Greenwize as a leader in improving people’s lifestyles through the use of efficient energy products that have less impact on the environment. We want to impact millions of lives in the slums and rural areas.

Tell us a little about your background...

I was born in Bukulunya village in Vihiga District in 1986. I went to Bukulunya Primary School and then joined Kakamega High School in 1999. Through hardships, I completed high school in 2002.

In 2004, I joined the University of Nairobi where I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering, graduating in 2009.

Tell us about these hardships that you faced while growing up...

Life was not easy. My parents were poor and we never enjoyed some of the basics that children in Nairobi take for granted. I had to walk long distances every day to school and I would use a lantern to do my homework. Sometimes I was sent away from school for lack of school fees, but my parents ensured that I did not drop out. They always encouraged me to focus on the goal and ignore the many challenges, which taught me to appreciate humble beginnings in life.

When did things start looking up?

Right after high school, I got a job as an untrained teacher at a local high school in Kakamega where I taught Physics and Mathematics. I was glad to earn a little income. After campus, I got a job at the Ministry of Public works as an electrical engineer. It was a well paying job, but I quit.

What made you quit?

I was tired of the routine and wanted something more stimulating that would impact many livelihoods.

As an engineer, I am very much aware of the energy problem in Kenya. I wanted to do more than just sit and lament about it. I wanted to be part of the solution. That is what inspired me to start Greenwize Energy last year.

What would you tell jobless young people who want to be like you?

They should not fear failure. This fear of failure is what prevents many from trying. Most importantly, they should come out of their comfort zones and dare to do something different.

What’s your daily mantra?

I have a strong desire to make the world a better place through the application of technology.

Parting shot?

I would like to appeal to everybody, including the corporate world, to join us in improving the living conditions of the poor by supporting the energy efficient stove. My desire is to improve maternal and child health in Kenya as well as protect our environment by reducing  deforestation.

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