Remba Island is situated in the north Kenyan sector of Lake Victoria, close to the Ugandan border. Its 60,000 plus inhabitants are mostly made up of fishermen, mothers, children, pirates and prostitutes. Unwanted pregnancies are high as is sexual assault, HIV and a host of other diseases.
For all that, the islanders are generally wealthy (by rural Kenyan standards) because of the sale of fish – mostly to Uganda. A number of surveys of the islanders showed a clear desire for electricity to power basic commodities such as lighting, TV, refrigeration, computers and mobile device charging. The survey also showed a clear willingness and ability of the inhabitants to pay for the electricity consumed.
Working in partnership
We worked with the lead contractor, EPGE Dream, based in Nairobi. The organisation had received some partial grant funding for the project but the vast majority of the funding was from the Dream’s own finances to use this installation as a case study showing banks and other lenders that such ventures can be self-funding and profitable even without NGO or aid money. In this case, the grant was given by World Health Organisation (WHO) who wanted to trial if providing light at night would achieve the following:
1. Reduce sexual assault
2. Reduce pregnancies
3. Increase the capability of children to learn after dark
As well as the WHO objectives there were other important issues that solar power could overcome. With the price of paraffin being more than most islanders could afford, many people relied upon kerosene to fuel their lighting. The fumes irritated the eyes and lungs of islanders and children would suffer burns from accidents with the lamps.
The dream for power becomes reality
Several companies had looked at the solar power project and said they couldn’t help but we believed there was a solution we could deliver. As a result, Solar Technology International was commissioned by Dream to design, build, deliver and deploy the solar system.
A key challenge was the logistics of getting the battery storage and circuitry to the remote island and be sure it would work once it was there with the facilities that would be available. To overcome this problem we built the power station in containers here in the UK so that we could test it as a complete unit before it was shipped to Kenya with the solar panels.
Monitoring from our UK headquarters
A team of three from Solar Technology worked with local contractors to install the solar power station and it was completed at the end of 2017 and has been now fully operational for almost three years. The system’s performance is monitored day by day by us at our UK headquarters by our on-site retained employee who keeps on top of the system with inspections and cleaning as required. The capacity of the system is now fully utilised and there is demand for a several more systems on the island.
The results for the WHO have been striking. The availability of light and power has reduced sexual assault and pregnancies plus, the educational achievements of the children had markedly improved. Dream estimate that 24-hour renewable electricity leads to a 149% increase in studying time.
The solar power station has also had a transformative effect on healthcare facilities on the island as the health centre can now stay operational for 24 hours a day. Previously those requiring maternity care would be turned away after dark but now they can access the care they need all day, every day.