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Solar power scarce despite plenty of sunshine

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There is a ready market for solar energy since all of the five East African countries—Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi—have a power deficit. Photo/FILE

There is a ready market for solar energy since all of the five East African countries—Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi—have a power deficit. Photo/FILE 

By RAWLINGS OTINI

Posted  Monday, October 17   2011 at  19:55

In Summary

Importing a finished solar pack consisting of a solar panel, batteries and an inverter at a cost of Sh80,000 attracts an inspection fee of Sh4,000, but importing components used to make each of these products raises the cost of the imported products significantly above market prices.

Imports are normally subjected to pre-shipment inspection to establish their quality attracting an additional cost.

Athuman Ndoro, a small business owner in Kwale County used to walk for 15km to charge his mobile phone because his neighbourhood is not connected to electricity.

Lack of affordable energy supply in his Mlola village also means that the residents have to rely on expensive paraffin to light their houses.

With the help of the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP), which runs a project that trains entrepreneurs in the East Africa and gives them a guarantee of upto 70 per cent on credit, some entrepreneurs in rural areas obtain loans to secure solar power equipment.
The organisation, a UK registered not-for-profit NGO, aims to increase access to modern energy to reduce poverty in developing countries.

However, it is likely to have a minimal impact if much is not done to allow mass ownership of the project through policy change.

With a loan of loan of Sh20,000 from the Kenya Women’s Finance Trust in March this year, he purchased a 40W panel and solar battery of 50amps.

Mr Athuman has invested in leasing of solar lamps and charging mobile phones.

His returns on the mobile phone charging business have grown from Sh2,000 a month to Sh7,000 a month from April handling an average of 360 phones monthly.

According to GVEP business development coordinator, Samuel Kitula, the solar panel not only fulfils the electricity needs of a household, by replacing kerosene and petrol fuelled generators, but it provides new streams of income.

Despite a drop in solar power costs by 60 per cent in the past five years in the international market due to technological advances, manufacturing efficiency, the uptake of the technology remains subdued in the country.

Polysilicon, the main raw material in solar panels, has plunged a further 33 per cent to about $50 a kilogramme in the world market during the second quarter of this year.

This has lowered production costs in the $35 billion global market for the photovoltaic devices, according Bloomberg Energy Finance data.

Investors in the solar energy market claim that even though the government has put in place policies to grow the sector, much remains to be done.

The government waiver of duty on imported solar equipment in the Budget is yet to be felt with dealers blaming the weak shilling for the high prices.

The penetration of the solar energy products remains a meagre three per cent of energy consumption in the country.

High pre-shipment inspection fees on imported inputs have been blamed for discouraging investment in the manufacturing of solar products.

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