Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are the most commonly used of solar energy technologies in Kenya. PVs convert sunlight directly into electricity making them one of the most useful renewable energy technologies. As a result, they have found multiple uses in residential, commercial and industrial sectors among others.
According to Kenya Renewable Energy Association, Kenya has one of the most active Solar PV markets in Sub Saharan Africa with an installed PV capacity of about 4 Megawatts. Further, an estimated 300,000 Kenyans in rural areas have installed solar PVs. Solar PV kits have in fact contributed to 26% of the electrification in rural areas.
According to a survey done by Kenya Climate Innovation Centre Kenya is endowed with high solar insolation averaging 4.5Kwh/m2/day. This means that the country receives a lot of sunlight energy which can be converted into electricity.
The survey also established that at least 50% of Kenyan have owned a solar product for lighting, mobile charging or other application in the past. Although most consumers find solar products to be very useful, battery maintenance has been cited as the major challenge.
To tackle this, traditional battery manufacturers like Chloride Exide have taken up the challenge now providing solar panels with warranties for replacement over the lifetime of the product. For instance, the company provides warranties of up to 25 years for some of its solar PV products and free installation.
The components of a solar PV usually include a solar panel which generates electricity, a rechargeable battery for storing the energy, one or more lamps (energy-saving), and a power control unit, in the case of solar home system kits. Although some retailers sell individual units, more innovative companies provide the whole package. Chloride Exide, for instance provides such wholesome units to customers.
Although PVs can have a variety of uses, in Kenya they are primarily used for lighting. Most of the modern solar lighting products incorporate features such as mobile charging.
However, the case for the adoption of solar for households stems from their usually low installation and maintenance costs, durability, versatility, remote application in rural areas and the environmental benefits. To elaborate on cost, solar providers like Chloride Exide now offer PVs costing as low as Sh. 1,200 and up to just Sh. 30,000 on the higher side with an output range of between 12 watts and 300 watts according to their online portal.
The increase in solar adoption over the past ten years, by more than 100% was mainly due to the falling global price of PVs from USD 5 per watt in 2000 to USD 0.5 per watt in 2014. Installed capacity rose from 1.4 Megawatts in the 1980s to 20 Megawatts in 2013.
Despite the improvements, Kenya is currently still generating less than 1% of its electricity from solar PV installations which points to the need for greater adoption. In this regard, KPLC estimates that 20% of Kenya’s population will need to be offered electricity via off-grid hybrid solutions combining solar, wind and storage technologies.
In spite of the existing challenges, the government has put in place sufficient incentives for households and investors that may want to go the extra mile and invest in extensively in solar energy. Currently the government’s Feed-in-Tariff policy of 2012 allows provides for Sh. 12/KWh for those who intend to sell electricity to the national grid.
Electricity consumption in the country has been growing at rapid rate, averaging 6% annually, and investments in new generation capacity have not come on board fast enough to meet growing demand.
Companies like Chloride Exide are helping to facilitate the adoption of solar by households to relieve the national grid of some of the load. This way, supply to meet the short term demand may be increased.