A Swedish-headquartered social enterprise is empowering rural communities in East Africa through affordable, clean and energy efficient modes of generating power for electricity and cooking from standard solar units to cookstoves and slightly larger systems.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

In Kenya, low-income rural households – earning between $0 and $2 a day – are almost entirely reliant on kerosene to perform daily tasks that electrified societies would otherwise utilise grid power for. In most African countries this makes up approximately 30–50% of the population.

In Kenya the World Bank puts the number at 50%. Often children go to bed hungry and battle to perform at school. Education, healthcare and economic growth are the three main pillars most often positively impacted when an electricity roadmap is implemented.

GIVEWATTS, fully owned by a trust with the purpose of safeguarding the principles of maximum scale without compromising the impact on individual households, has developed a clean power initiative comprised of solar lamps and energy efficient cookstoves, in Kenyan counties Migori, Bomet, Kisii, Nyamira and Kakamega.With the objective to improve education standards and incentivise attendance, the initiative is aimed at primary and secondary schools, where educational demands are often neglected due to household commitments and financial constraints, especially for young girls.

While boys can attend to homework directly after school assisted by the sunlight, usually girls have to start with the household chores: fetching water, washing cloths and cooking in a dark smoky place. When it is time for her to study, it is dark.

To date, the pre-established network of primary and secondary schools in Kenya is 2,000, of which 300 have already benefited from the project offering. In total, 2,003 standard solar units and 534 cookstoves have been deployed, enabling households to climb the energy ladder and consume energy in a smarter, cheaper and more productive way. Parents from the school beneficiaries wanting to participate, sign up for a lamp and leave a deposit followed by monthly instalments over four to six months. Until they have paid off the lamp, the solar panels remain at the school where the children can bring the device to recharge when needed. However, since there has been nearly a 100% repayment rate, the panels are now able to travel home with the customers. The battery has a life expectancy of five years, with a performance decrease after three years. This initiative not only encourages a healthier relationship with energy; education results also improve and more children can realise dreams and hopes for their future.

As the programme is designed to assist beneficiaries to climb the ‘energy ladder’, the entry solar unit is for those who are earning a minimum wage. The step above the standard solar lamp is for a higher income bracket. Often the natural move up is a larger solar system with multiple light points and more functionality, such as the inclusion of a radio, small TV, or small piece of equipment that improves productivity. Examples of this include egg incubators, basic power tools or simply light to keep the vegetable stand open for longer at the market. At this step the family benefits from solar-powered light, light; and, being able to follow news, stays better informed about local and national issues. It can also incease its productivity, resulting in increased income.

Movement up this ‘energy ladder’ is usually determined by income levels; the poorest and most rural communities consume the lowest, dirtiest, most hazardous, and highly inefficient energy sources. As they experience increases in income and/or savings from using cleaner energy products, they can move up the ladder and purchase products at the next level. Customers at the lowest tier of the energy ladder do not have any clean energy products and often take the first step when they purchase the most basic solar lamp or energy efficient stove.

The impacts of these initiatives is tremendous in rural communities, and these include improvements in grades, improved health (less toxic fumes), more disposable income (savings on fuel and productive time), and an improvement in gender equality.


Solar lamps

According to a recent data analysis performed by the project developers, those 2,003 households with solar lamps have saved an estimated $1,181,770 from buying less kerosene and not having to pay for charging their mobile phones. For example, each solar lamp saves $118 per year on kerosene and phone charging. Lamps are expected to last five years, so that is $590 per household times 2,003 households. As a result of no more kerosene use, there has been an overall reduction in health problems and respiratory complaints. As students are now able to study into the night, there has been a grade average improvement of 15–20%.

Providing an affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern source of power for 10,015 persons (average of five per lamp), each lamp has seen a 1,37 tonne CO2 reduction in total, saving 2,744 tonnes of CO2.

In a study conducted by researchers from LSE and Trinity College Dublin it was found that in 25% of the households that had purchased a lamp (NB, not the stove, where this would be expected) the woman of that household had increased her number of available hours (by nearly four hours per day) and had acquired a paid job outside of the house, shifting the gender balance in the household.

Energy efficient stoves

The 534 households that installed energy efficient cookstoves reduced fuel expenditures by 50%, which translated into $411,180 in savings. As these cookstoves produce less smoke and toxins, indoor air quality improved significantly, reducing previously recorded health issues. Also, women who had spent on average four hours a day collecting firewood, have freed up time or extra income-generating roles. Greenhouse gases too saw a reduction of 8,7 tonnes of CO2 per stove, totalling 4,558 tonnes of CO2.

The foundations of this innovation were laid by marrying the technology with the implementation to answer to the needs of rural customers. The distribution, which will continue in the project area, will eventually widen and deepen the reach and types of products. This will allow the households to continue to climb the energy ladder, and become smarter users of energy.

This article first appeared in The African Power & Energy Elites, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.