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Kenyan solar farm protects girls

File image: Xinhua/Xu Yu

File image: Xinhua/Xu Yu

Published Jan 25, 2017


Kenya - When the first few residents of this village in

the Ngong hills installed solar panels, nearly a decade ago, the only aim was

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to power their own homes, as their town had no connection to the national power


But today the community, south of Nairobi in the Rift

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Valley, is buzzing with solar and wind energy, which powers everything from the

dispensary and church to shops, homes and even a rescue centre for girls

fleeing child marriage and the threat of female genital mutilation. 

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Residents say they banded together to buy the shared

energy system themselves, recognising that the substantial upfront cost would

create benefits for years to come. Those now include everything from vaccines

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that can now be kept cold at the dispensary to solar-powered pumping of


"Before we started this solar farm, people from this

village used to travel to Ngong town, which is 17 kilometres away, to get basic

services and goods such as a photocopy or a haircut. This used to inconvenience

us greatly since you had to part with a tidy sum," said Simon Parkesian,

the manager of the community's solar farm. 

In 2009, some residents of Olosho-Oibor, impressed with a

first couple of private solar panels installed in the community, decided they

wanted panels of their own - but many people could not afford them.  

So a group of community members began contributing cash -

10 dollars a month - until they had enough to buy a set of larger solar panels

that could serve many nearby homes. 

Read also:  Solar boom on the horizon?

They then approached the UN Industrial Development

Organization for technical help in installing their system. Today the

125-member energy cooperative has raised $4 900 for panels - installed on poles

around the community and on rooftops - and installed two small wind turbines as


The community also has a 10-kilowatt diesel generator as

a backup in periods when both sunshine and wind fall short, but that is used

only occasionally, Parkesian said. 

Power to the girls

Lydia Mboyo, one of those receiving power from the

community energy farm, said having lights in the evening has helped her

children study and allowed her to run her small retail shop at night. 

She now is making plans to expand her shop and purchase a

refrigerator to store perishable food and drinks. 

"I am also a member of a women's group that makes

and sells beaded ornaments abroad, and with lighting we have been able to store

our business records in computers. We also listen to the radio for entertainment

while beading," Mboyo said. 

Parkesian said access to power also has spurred creation

of a community information and communications technology (ICT) centre that has

trained more than 40 people in basic computer skills, and that now offers

photocopying and printing services. 

The centre also allows people to charge their mobile

phones, which once had to be switched off to save power when not being used to

make calls. 

As well, the renewable energy network is powering a

centre for vulnerable girls fleeing early marriage and female genital

mutilation - both problems common in the area, Parkesian said. 

Read also:  Dutch team takes Solar Challenge

"The power grid has initiated many projects in the

community but the most important project is the girls' rescue center that

houses close to 80 vulnerable girls," he said. The centre, opened in 2012,

uses renewable energy to light its dormitories and classrooms. 

Jackline Mwendo, a nurse at Olosho-Olbor dispensary, said

her facility has been able to offer vaccine services since it got power to

provide refrigeration. 

The dispensary's water supply has also improved as a

result of using solar-powered pumps, she said, though she is still hoping for

additional power to light maternal delivery rooms at night. 

Sustainable system

Parkesian said the cost of maintaining the renewable

mini-grid has been significant, and community members have needed to contribute

$5 a month for continuing access to power to help pay those costs. 

Members of the energy cooperative have been trained to repair

and replace worn-out parts of wind turbines and solar panels, he said. But many

repairs require technical knowledge not available in the village, which

increases costs and can lead to the system not working for short periods. 

Running the community's diesel generator to provide

back-up lighting at night costs $10 per day, he said. 

Leah Kaguara, the Africa director for Energy 4 Impact, a

non-governmental organisation that supports energy access in off-grid

communities, said Olosh-Oibor's model of communities pulling together to invest

in renewable energy should be encouraged, in part to overcome the technology's

high upfront costs. 

Access to energy is key to eradicating extreme poverty in

areas where people still rely on firewood or kerosene for energy, she


One key to making community renewable energy systems

work, she added, is that people should continue to pay at least a small amount

for the power they receive, including to support maintenance costs. 




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