Kenya: A place in the sun

Kenya: A place in the sun

A Kenyan university which has opted for solar-powered energy has achieved a series of remarkable firsts, including a zero-carbon footprint, enormous savings and revenue-generating capacity. Aamera Jiwaji reports on another great Kenyan innovation.

Nestled in a corner of Nairobi is a privately owned Kenyan university, which has become the first educational institution in sub-Saharan
Africa to achieve a zero-carbon footprint.

In June, Kenya’s Strathmore University switched on a 600kW photovoltaic solar-energy system that generates enough electricity to satisfy the consumption needs of its 1,000-strong campus for 30 years, and translates to an operational savings cost of $300,000 a year.

The project is a first on many counts. With 2,400 panels located on the roofs of six buildings, it is the largest rooftop solar installation in sub-Saharan Africa.

As a green technology project, the amount of carbon dioxide avoided is equivalent to planting between 700 and 850 trees a year.

On a continent bedevilled by crippling power outages, Strathmore becomes the first and largest private producer of solar power to sell energy to electricity distributor Kenya Power, since their system generates enough to meet their own needs and supply between 200-400 MW hours into the national grid every year.

By tying into Kenya’s Vision 2030 goals, the Strathmore project bolsters the country’s move towards increased energy generation and distribution – which in January received a boost after nine sites for solar power plants were identified to meet more than half the country’s electricity needs by 2016.

Construction on the Strathmore photovoltaic project started in January, but the genesis for the idea has been three and a half years in the making.

In 2011, the privately owned university received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) award for its Business School which capitalises on natural light and air, and has a Building Management System that allows a 20% saving on electricity costs. A 10kW solar project was installed at the time to subsidise the energy demands of its kitchen and student centre.

Three years ago, however, the raw material costs for a solar energy system were prohibitive and project developers Questworks couldn’t make financial sense of a 40kW system. But in the last decade, prices of solar modules have plummeted from $5.50 per watt in December 2001 to $2 a watt in March 2012, a nearly 200% drop in a decade.

This is in part due to China’s entry as a major producer of solar panels, and the weakened monopolistic hold of German companies over the sector.
According to PV magazine, trade publication for the international photovoltaic community, seven of the top 10 solar module producers in 2013 were Chinese and well over 50% of all solar panels shipped globally were manufactured in China.

Increased interest in solar technology has also meant that instead of sourcing all aspects of a system from one supplier or country, Questworks was able to buy panels from China, inverters from Israel and cabling from the local Kenyan market.

“The solar industry is truly flat and the technologies are not too far apart when you move from country to country. German investors, installers and end users, who have access to a large variety of products and information, are choosing value (the ratio between quality and price), and others, especially Chinese and Koreans – and some Americans, Italians and Israelis too – are taking the day,” reads Questwork’s feasibility report.


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Written by Aamera Jiwaji

Aamera Jiwaji is a Nairobi-based business journalist who writes for the East African and MENA markets. A graduate of South Africa's Rhodes University, she returned to the media in 2011 after working in Kenya's publishing and public relations scene. Tweet her on @amijiwaji.

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