Universities get funding towards solar energy to cut utility costs

Solar panels. [iStockphoto]

A new dawn could be in the offing for public universities as they begin the journey to cut on the cost of their operations.

Public universities and the Education Ministry are mulling a plan to use solar energy.

The proposal seeks to cut down power utility bills that the Universities Fund estimates stand at up to Sh10 million monthly per institution.

Last week, vice chancellors and the Universities Fund met to explore the plan.

Geoffrey Monari, the Fund chief executive officer said if adopted, the plan will see the universities cut their power bills by between 30 and 40 per cent.

‘‘On average when we look at electricity bills for our universities, it is between Sh5 million and Sh10 million per month, so if each universities can save 30 to 40 per cent you can see the savings will be very high,’’ said Monari.

A simulation done by energy firm Astonfield estimates the cost to set up the solar project at Sh97 million per university, with a repayment period of about five years.

The lifeline of the solar panels is set at 25 years.

‘‘The reason why we are having this discussion is to ensure that our universities are sustainable. We all are aware that one of the biggest challenges that they are facing is the finances,’’ Monari said.

The Universities Fund indicated that it has secured funding from the Cooperative Bank for the project.

‘‘We are going to be like the buffer institution to make sure that we are able to get cheap financing for solarisation and bring in the required market for this to make sure they are supported,” said the CEO.

Karuti Kanyiga, the Fund chairman, said the project will generate jobs and build skills for students.

‘‘We are looking at a case where students with skills to assemble powers, assemble lithium batteries, and all that is required within an ecosystem that we are talking about,’’ he said.

Strathmore University, which launched the solar project in 2014, has saved up to Sh80 million, according to Thomas Bundi, quality engineer at the Strathmore Energy Research Centre.

This is about 30 per cent of the electricity bills it initially paid.

The project will also minimize greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy. "We will be able to ensure that our universities are more climate friendly and as we implement this climate change agenda that the President is spearheading,’’ said Monari.

He said other cost-cutting measures include the construction of hostels through Public Private Partnerships.

Monari said public universities need about 281,000 hostel rooms across the country.

Further, plans are underway to commercialise research and attract international admissions. ‘‘The key point is that we want to make sure that universities are able to commercialise that research so that they can be able to make more income for themselves so that they can be able to reduce dependance on exchequer,’’ he said.

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