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Sarah Mbwaya: How I found passion and success in lucrative solar power business

ENTERPRISE
By Wainaina Wambu | Apr 13th 2022 | 4 min read
By Wainaina Wambu | April 13th 2022
ENTERPRISE
Sarah Mbwaya, managing director Aspectus Limited, a solar power firm. [Courtesy]

For Ms Sarah Mbwaya, the final push to venture into the renewable energy business came after attending a solar power exhibition. At the event, she bought some outdoor solar lights for her home.

Her neighbours and friends, impressed by the lights brightening her entrances and walkways, asked her to help them get similar ones.

This triggered her entrepreneurial spirit, coming at a time when she needed a fresh challenge in her life.

She was familiar with the field as an electrical and electronics engineering graduate from the University of Nairobi.

Before this, she had spent years in the corporate world as an Information Technology (IT) expert.

“I began doing my homework. As much as I have a technical background in the field, every business is unique,” Ms Mbwaya told Enterprise of her start in 2015.

She had in the past registered a company that went dormant. The time to breathe a new life into Aspectus Ltd had come.

She is the firm’s managing director, supported by her daughter and co-founder, Maureen Iminza Mbwaya.

Back to school

For the firm to be licensed by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) - then Energy Regulatory Authority - as a solar power business, a trained and licensed solar power technician was required.

“I started looking for guys and interviewing them. Majority said we would have to pay them at least a fee of Sh40,000 monthly just for the certificate and not for any work done,” said Ms Mbwaya.

This prompted her to return to school and enroll for a short course to secure a certificate as a solar power technician. It was one of her wisest business decisions she has ever taken.

“When my team designs, I’m able to look at the systems and ensure everything is in place,” she said.

“It also makes it easier for me to have conversations with clients and answer their questions on the solution provided and what’s happening on the project site.”

Electricity is among the largest expenditures for most firms and households and continues to rise. High power costs have led to more adoption of energy-saving technologies.

This includes a switch to renewable energy owing to its reliability, lower operating cost, and the need to become part of a global movement in the fight against global warming and climate change.

Aspectus enables off-grid customers to have access to electricity and those on the grid to benefit from reduced costs as well as steady power.

The firm’s power solutions include solar PV off-grid and on-grid systems, outdoor lights for gardens, security and streets, water heating and  pumping systems.

“We customise the solutions to fit any budget while providing quality to our clients. Our products range from small home systems to large commercial systems,” the MD said.

The firm also has renewable energy solutions to boost agricultural produce such as solar-powered food dryers, egg incubators and cooling systems.

The clientele is diverse including off-grid hotels, lodges and camps, institutions, home owners, farms and malls among others.

The firm partners with developers for solutions such as water heaters and lighting the common areas. Key current projects being done by Aspectus include a solar project with Kings Developers for 72 solar water heaters for their block of apartments along Hatheru Road, Nairobi.

Ms Mbwaya said the firm is handling solar lighting in a project in Rongai with 700 houses.

Another ongoing project is one with a hotel in Diani, Ukunda (solar PV and solar water pumping) and two residential home solar PV in Kiambu and one in Nanyuki.

However, even as more people clamour for renewable energy sources such as solar, the switch seems expensive to many due to initial high cost of installation.

Ms Mbwaya said costs are falling owing to free duty importation and zero-rated value added tax on some renewable energy products and accessories which will encourage more people to adopt solar.

“It’s the ones who return and say my bill has gone down by 30 to 40 per cent,” she said of what gives her joy about her business.

Connect more people

Solar power also ensures that more people are connected to electricity and cut on use of dirty fuels such as kerosene.

A study by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, the global association for the off-grid solar energy industry, showed that 94 per cent of people living with off-grid solar home systems reported improvements to their quality of life.

Ms Mbwaya’s profile is quite impressive, packing 30 years of engineering experience with a strong focus on systems design, automation, improvement and implementation.

She has served on several boards including the Numerical Machining Complex and is an independent non-executive director of listed firm Limuru Tea.

She is also the country chairperson of African Women in Energy and Power, and a member of management board of Friends of Conservation.

Her experience enables her to negotiate deals, have solutions for clients and manage staff and money.

“I want to sort out people’s problems and that client’s smile pushes me to make another client happy,” said Ms Mbwaya.

Her firm has eight workers and puts hundreds into work indirectly, including sub-contractors and casuals.

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