Nairobi — "Kenya sits on the Equator making it a country that has the sun the whole year. But it is a paradox because you have less than 2 percent of solar power installations," muses Professor Izael Pereira Da Silva, Director of Energy Research Centre at Strathmore University.
The remaining 98 percent of solar installations, he says, are in countries which are outside the sun-belt. So, where lies the problem?
"First, there is the problem of awareness where most people don't know much about solar. Secondly, you don't have a specific industry for solar; very few people are trained to install and maintain this thing and thirdly, the government is not very much willing to design policies that can favour the industry," he said during an interview at the university.
But despite the challenges, Strathmore University in Madaraka, Nairobi has decided to take the solar power route to not only save on energy costs, but also sell excess power, among other benefits.
The university has installed one of the largest rooftop PV solar power plants in the region producing over 600 kilowatts which consists of 2,400 solar panels and 30 inverters.
According to Professor Da Silva, the new project will now save the university close to Sh1.8 million every month in terms of electricity bills, adding the savings will be used to service the loan which was used to finance the project at the beginning.
The project was financed through secured green funds at concessionary rates from the Co-operative Bank of Kenya.
"We hope to get about 70 percent of our bills knocked off," Da Silva says smiling, "It is like renting a house and buying a house. Now, I am buying a house. In about seven and a half year's time we will have paid the loan, then we will benefit with the project perhaps for the next 20 years."
The plant has been installed by Quest Works Limited, a local real estate project management and consulting company which is the first of its solar project in the country and the region.
The system is spread over the rooftops of six buildings within the university and has a daily power production of 2.2 to 2.8 megawatt hours, monitored at panel level.
According to Quest Works Lead Consultant and CEO Raul Figueroa, this kind of project is meant for heavy power users and during daytime like large institutions and factories. "People who use more power during the night and not during the day are not candidate," Figueroa says.
Even as he urges organisations to embrace solar power, his emphasis is on investing in enough research prior to solar installations to ensure they get the required results.
Strathmore University is now in the process of signing a contract with Kenya Power to sell excess electricity as they are now under the class of Independent Power Producer (IPP) according to the energy regulations.
"We will be selling power to them for the next 20 years at perhaps 12 cents of a dollar. It is little because we pay 23 and they pay 12. But it is money; it is free money. With this project we will get close to 30,000 or 40,000 dollars per year." Professor Da Silva says.
The university also plans to use the project as a 'training lab' for students even from other institutions with the aim of increasing the number of solar experts in the country.
Similar existing plants are at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters (500 KW) and Williamson tea factory (1 MW).