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More businesses, homes turn to solar energy to tame power costs

By Mumbi Kinyua | July 5th 2016
Charles Okoth Onyango, a farmer at Dala Rieko farm in Asembo bay Siaya county with the solar wheelbarrow panels used to bump water at the farm. PHOTO: COLLINS ODUOR

Something new is happening at London Distillers that has nothing to do with alcohol. Early this year, the wines and spirits distiller signed a contract with Solar Century to instal the largest solar roof in East Africa.

The Athi River-based firm currently spends up to Sh6 million on electricity bills a month. Installation of the panels is expected to begin in the last quarter of the year, and save the firm Sh450 million over the next quarter century after the 1 megawatt-generating roof is installed.

“By offsetting the need for grid energy and diesel, the system will enable London Distillers to save Sh18 million per year for at least the next 25 years, which is the lifetime of the system,” Solar Century East Africa Director Guy Lawrence said.

Solar Century has also installed solar panels at the Garden City development and Williamson Tea, which unveiled its 1MW solar farm two years ago at the Changoi tea farm.

The solar firm uses hybrid technology to further reduce costs, which means its solar systems run alongside diesel generators without the need for expensive batteries. Solar power provides 30 per cent of Williamson Tea’s electricity needs, which has slashed its bills significantly.

At Garden City, solar panels power the mall’s activities during the day. At night, it switches to grid energy or diesel-powered generators.

According to Mr Lawrence, by using solar electricity rather than grid energy, the mall is projected to cut carbon emissions by around 18,750 tonnes over the lifetime of the solar system.

Prepaid power

Solar has also found its way into educational institutions. A few years back, Izael Pereira, a renewable energy expert and professor, installed solar panels at Strathmore University, saving the institution millions of shillings in power costs.

The university has since signed a deal with Kenya Power to sell 0.25MW of the 0.6MW it produces.

The domestic use of solar is also growing rapidly. M-Kopa, for instance, is taking prepaid power to rural areas and has installed electricity in 340,000 homes across East Africa.

Its solar panels are installed after a deposit of Sh3,500, followed by monthly instalments of Sh50 for 12 months. Thereafter, one is able to enjoy the benefits of electricity at no cost.

Julian Mitchel, the managing director at M-Kopa, said most customers are able to instal the system themselves within an hour, adding that users save about Sh75,000 over a four-year period. He added that the firm’s new solar digital television, which was introduced in February, has been well received in the market.

Statistics indicate China will have the largest solar deployment by 2030 at 42 per cent, followed by the US at 23 per cent. South Africa and Nigeria will lead in Africa, both at 16 per cent.

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