OLOSHO-OIBOR, Kenya — Less than 10 years ago, this rural community, nestled in the Nyong hills of the Rift Valley, lived in darkness. The community had no connection to the country’s national power grid or any other significant source of solar energy in Kenya. Residents had to travel 17 kilometers to the nearby town of Ngong to complete basic errands, like getting a haircut, which was costly and time-consuming.
The idea of free, renewable energy was attractive, and inspiration struck. A group of residents decided to invest in solar energy in Kenya starting in their tight-knit village. After doing some research, the residents realized that they could pool their resources. Some were so financially strained they could only contribute $10 a month. However, each little contribution added to the momentum, and eventually, the community gained enough funds to purchase a set of large solar panels with the capability of powering many homes.
Olosho-Oibor residents knew that their investment in solar energy required technical support and proper installation techniques, so residents sought the guidance of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). A 125-member “energy team” of local consultants formed to create Community Power Centres (CPCs), and the residents received an 80 percent cost subsidy from the UNIDO budget. Solar panels soon sprouted on poles and rooftops around the community.
Despite experiencing some minor growing pains from technological issues, the Olosho-Oibor CPC project was considered one of the most successful outcomes in a recent report from the independent UNIDO Country Evaluation for the Republic of Kenya.
Today, Olosho-Oibor is reaping the benefits. The CPCs provide electricity to the pharmacy, church, homes and shops. Vaccines can now be kept cold, and area wells use solar power pumps.
Resident Lydia Mboyo extolled the benefits of the CPCs bringing solar energy in Kenya: “I am 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.” She can now operate her small business at night and is planning to expand.
CPC manager Simon Parkesian says that businesses and homes are not the only sources benefitting from the solar energy. The availability of electricity inspired residents to create a community information and communications technology (ICT) center. Parkesian reports that Olosho-Oibor’s ICT center has trained more than 40 people in basic computer skills, along with providing a central hub for charging mobile phones.
The opportunities from solar energy in Kenya have changed life for young girls as well. A center for vulnerable girls fleeing early marriage and female genital mutilation was created thanks to Olosho-Oibor’s CPCs. According to Parkesian, the CPCs were instrumental in creating a girls’ rescue center that houses up to 80 vulnerable girls.
Despite the costs, Parkesian remains confident in the sustainability of Olosho-Oibor’s CPCs. He said that community members are trained to repair and replace malfunctioning or worn-out parts. The community does have a diesel generator to provide auxiliary lighting. Parkesian is optimistic about the future and reports that community members currently need only pay $5 per month for continued access to the CPCs.
– Gisele Dunn