Kenya - When the first few residents of this village in
the Ngong hills installed solar panels, nearly a decade ago, the only aim was
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.