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Project to light up Makueni

By - Onesmus Nzioka | September 20th 2012

By Onesmus Nzioka

More than 3,000 residents of Kitonyoni sub-location, Makueni County, are set to benefit from a multi-million-shilling solar energy research project undertaken by the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.

The project is a pilot study in Kenya undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) from Southampton University in collaboration with the Imperial College Business School.

It involves installation of gigantic solar panels to harness renewable solar energy as a way of implementing easy-to-replicate, sustainable decentralised off-grid electricity generation to promote development and improve lives in rural communities in Africa.

Viable centre

When completed, it will see 3,000 inhabitants connected to electricity supply, with 40 direct connections to churches, hospitals and schools within the area.

The project is funded by the research councils and Department of International Development UK, under the Makueni County Solar Energy Supply Cooperative society, through the ministries of Energy and Cooperative Development.

 Research on renewable solar energy to light up rural Kenya began three years ago and Makueni was identified as a viable centre.

Two sub-locations in Makueni, Kitonyoni and Mwania were identified as viable centres for the pilot study due to their remoteness and distance from the national grid as well as availability of so many facilities in dire need of electrification.

The two were identified by mapping data from Kenya that defines poverty levels and identifies areas where there is no electricity and no immediate plans to connect the existing grid often because of large distances and poor terrain that makes the process costly.

Implementation of the project will take place at Kitonyoni sub location while Mwania sub-location will act as a control site and will be electrified later. This will connect more households to electricity, which would otherwise have waited for decades to be connected to the national grid.

SERG technicians led by the Head of Faculty of Civil Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton Prof AbuBakr S Bahaj,  were last week at the site of the project to lay  the foundation before the installation of solar panels, which scheduled to take place within the month.

Alleviate poverty

Prof Bahaj said the project will provide locals with cheap sustainable energy that will help create jobs and alleviate poverty in the area.

He urged residents to initiate viable income-generating projects that can take advantage of the venture to improve their socio economic well-being.

“Introduction of energy systems must be accompanied by the development of business processes to allow sustainable replication, deliver social benefits and create wealth for the Community,” says Prof Bahaj, while addressing the locals at Kitonyoni market.

He described the project as part of a study that seeks to assess the impact that off-grid electricity in rural villages in Africa has on their health and well-being.

Negative effect

 Prof Bahaj said the use of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy has the potential to produce a significant percentage of the world’s energy needs while alleviating the negative effect of using fossil fuels.

He said overdependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power to generate electricity extensively threatens the health of the population, leads to destruction of the environment, destabilises the earth’s climate and deprives future generations of clean air, water and energy independence.

Invaluable commodity

Residents of Kitonyoni are jubilating over the inception of the project.

 The nearest power line passes 30 kilometres away from the location, at Wote Township.

Joyce Mulu, a resident says, lighting up her house using electricity only existed in her dreams but the Kitonyoni project has made the dream come true sooner than she expected.

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