Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Solar power on the rise in Africa

Solar power on the rise
The East African, Kenya

By Ayoki Onyango

Installation of solar panels in homes is on the rise following the recent rise in oil prices, which has led to an increase in the cost of electricity.

Jua Moto Systems marketing manager, Mr Prakash Wanzah (left), explains to former Mombasa Mayor, Mr Hamisi Mwidani, how one of their latest solar energy products works. Picture by Ayoki Anyango

Not only is electricity expensive due to a fuel surcharge, but there have also been numerous and unexplained power disconnections, particularly in Nairobi. This has caused a surge in demand for fuel-powered generators, and a growing interest in solar energy.

Mr Prakash Wanzah, the marketing manager of Jua Moto Systems, who sell solar energy systems, says: "The uptake is very high, but there is lack of sensitisation, complete solution providers and service to the rural areas".

Another vendor, Mr Pavin Chukla of Solar Africa, is even more upbeat. "Demand is too much. We used to sell ten pieces of various sizes of solar panels per day. Today we are selling 30 pieces every day," he says.

Products on offer range from solar power packs, solar home light systems, solar concentrating cookers, solar parabolic cookers, wind generators, solar lanterns, solar electric water pumping system, evacuate tube collector, solar water heating system, flat plate water heating systems and solar street lights among others.

According to Mr Leornard Makuli of Solar World East Africa, installation of a solar heating and lighting system for a three-bedroom house in Nairobi costs an estimated Sh230,000 inclusive of Value Added Tax.

This includes two solar panels at Sh51,000 each, two solar batteries at Sh19,500 each, a 20amps charge controller at Sh8,500, electrical connections at Sh18,000, a 1000 watts inverter at Sh4,450, five energy savers at Sh450 each, solar connecting accessories at Sh4,500 and an installation charge of Sh8,500.

Says Chukla of Solar Africa: " the installation of a solar system can cut Kenya Power and Lighting Company bills from say Sh2,000 monthly to about Sh1,300 per month. What you get is more power for less money".

Wanzah says solar power packs are electricity-generating systems that make use of benign solar power to generate electricity cleanly, quietly and without causing any damage to the surrounding environment.

"Such systems are ideal for locations where the main electricity grid is unreliable or inaccessible or the access is prohibitively expensive," he says.

The salient features are clean, silent, eco-friendly sources of power and advanced controls for remote operation and monitoring. "There is little maintenance required as there are no moving parts," say Wanzah.

Further, solar energy offers a stable grid quality output without power fluctuations. "It is easy to install with no recurring fuel costs," he says.

Wanzah says the solar homelight system is a small electricity generating kit that makes use of the benign, clean and non-polluting energy from the sun. It powers appliances like lights, small television sets, fans and radios, adding that the solar homelight system consists of solar modules, deep cycle battery, compact fluorescent lamps and wires and hardware required to set the system up.

The solar home light systems, notes Wanzah, serve as an invaluable source of power in remote places off the national grid. These include communication outposts, forest reserves, campsites, and rural communities among others. It can also be used as a stand –by source during power outages.

The vendors say the rural areas need to be sensitised on the availability of solar energy systems. "When it is sunny like this, you can use solar energy for two to three days without switching on the mains. We need to see more demonstrations and advertising in rural areas," says Chukla.

Jua Moto now intends to introduce solar concentrating cookers and concentrating parabolic cookers. "The solar concentrating cooker is many times more useful that conventional box type solar cookers. The system can thus be used to cook a wide variety of foods, including chapatis, and other traditional preparations that require roasting, frying or baking," insists Wanzah.

The solar concentrating cooker can be easily installed, and can cater to the cooking requirements of 80 to 100 persons in a rural or urban environment. "Solar cookers are easy to install, easy to use and deliver years of trouble free service," says Jua Moto Systems Managing Director, Mr Jayesh Dave.

Solar cookers were introduced to two refugee camps, Kakuma, and Dadaab with relative success. Women were taught how to use the cookers, which are made out of cardboard and foil, and given a portion of food to cook so they did not have to use their own.

According to Mr Daniel Kammen, in the July 1995 issue of Scientific American, the average Kenyan spends about 40 per cent of earned income on fuel, 74 per cent of which is used for cooking. Using solar cookers has the potential to save each family 60 per cent of its fuel wood. Not to mention the benefits of decreased deforestation, which include rebuilding carbon, sinks, providing habitat for animals, and beautifying villages. The United Nations estimates that solar cooking will reduce the felling of trees around villages by 40 per cent.

The solar cookers are not as fast as traditional fires, but they are cleaner and require fewer raw materials. Another disadvantage is that they do not work as well on rainy or cloudy days. However, they do free up a substantial amount of time for women. It is estimated that women spend about five hours every day searching for fuel wood. With solar cookers, that time could be used to care for children or improve.

A solar lantern is a portable source and handy source of light ideal for use both indoors and outdoors. The solar lantern consists of a solar module, sealed maintenance free battery, charge controller, inverter and a compact fluorescent lamp.

The solar lantern uses solar energy to charge a battery inside the lantern. "The high efficiency inverter in the solar lantern uses battery power to operate a 5W or 7W compact fluorescent lamp for between two to six hours," says Wanzah.

Solar Water Pumping Systems are ideal water pumping solution when access to power is not readily available.

Then there are water heaters. Evacuated tube solar water heaters are a product, which is and reliable solution to conserve energy. Evacuated tube solar water heater use the abundant energy of the sun to heat water to temperatures as high as 85C and result in quantum savings in electricity or fuel oil. The abundantly available, free energy from the sun, can be tapped anywhere the evacuated tube collector water heating systems, says Wanzah adding that the systems can be easily installed and integrated with existing water heating systems such as a geysers in houses, steam boilers in industries, or pressurized systems in hotels.

"What is more, the water heating system pays back your investment in two to three years. With an estimated life span of 25 years, this represents excellent value for money," reveals Wanzah. Hot water is available round the clock, with significant energy savings. It is non polluting and environmentally friendly, with an operating life of 25 to 30 years.

Neighbourhood organisations and companies can also explore solar powered outdoor lighting systems, solar streetlights and solar garden lights. The lights can be used in locations where the supply of electricity is erratic or unobtainable.

Solar Streetlights are available in a wide range and can also be custom designed to meet particular service or aesthetic requirement.

Efforts have been made to decrease Kenya’s dependence on hydropower, mainly building diesel based or geothermal based power plants. In July of 1981, Kenya became the first country in Africa to install a geothermal unit. The unit is in Olkaria, near Lake Naivash, which is about 80 km northwest of Nairobi. Fuel oil is also being used to power generators to feed the national grid.

However, solar power has not been as thoroughly explored as hydroelectric and geothermal power in Kenya, but the country stands to benefit from its use because of its equatorial location.

There is a small but growing market for PV systems. Currently, PV cells are restricted to affluent society.

Still, the use of wind and solar energy has remained low, just like in the rest of Africa.

Whereas Egypt and South Africa are slightly advanced than the rest of Africa, they have also failed in providing complete turnkey solutions

"The significance of the carbon credit has not been fully exposed to the developed world. The Government should provide income tax relief to users of renewable energy products," says Prakash.

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