Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 5

The Commercial Dissemination of Photovoltaic Systems in Kenya
Daniel M. Kammen
Energy and Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3050

Keywords: Kenya, photovoltaics, solar home systems, N S, S S.

The commercial market for solar photovoltaic (PV) home systems has been active in Kenya for over 10 years. Over 80,000 solar home systems (SHSs) have been sold, providing power to over 1% of the rural population of roughly 25 million people. The total installed capacity is over two megawatts (MWp), with typical individual systems from 10 - 40 Wp (Wp = peak watts), and costs per system between US$250 and US$1,000. By contrast, the national Rural Electrification Programme has connected less than 2% of the rural households to grid-connected power supply. The Kenyan PV market evolved without subsidies or significant government or multinational agency support, although the activities of several private and volunteer organisations helped to disseminate information on photovoltaics and provide opportunities. Today dozens of companies are active in the PV industry in east Africa, and annual sales may exceed 20,000 - 30,000 individual systems and over 300 kWp (Msinga et al., 1997). USAID, GTZ, Care and Bellerive foundations were instrumental in the development and dissemination process of cookstoves.

Today nearly two billion people worldwide remain without electricity or the immediate prospect of grid electrification. While over 1.2 billion people have gained access to grid-connected electricity services over the past 20 years, this has not kept pace with the population that has grown by over 1.5 billion during the same time span. In Africa, grid extension has been the slowest of all the major regions of the 'South'; only half of urban residents and a mere eight per cent of the rural population are served by a grid-based power supply. Meeting the growing demand for power over the next decades will be exceedingly difficult in itself, and will be compounded by the challenge of doing so without massive increases in GHG emissions.

Until the late 1980s PV electrification in east Africa was largely confined to the affluent and to donor projects that often powered wells and bore holes, schools, refrigerators in rural health clinics, and missions (Acker and Kammen, 1996). These systems generally arrived as complete packages, often imported directly from overseas via a local agent, distributor, or development group. Falling prices of crystalline and amorphous panels, increased awareness of the services that photovoltiacs can provide, and recognition of the potential to commercialise PV systems all increased activity in the local market.

A key aspect of the dissemination process for photovoltaics in Kenya is the degree that it has been market driven, and thus the 'approach' taken is best described as 'market realism'. Initially, most systems were relatively large, and, as noted above, either donated or purchased by rural elites. A recent survey of over 400 households (Msinga et al., 1997) found that while the mean income was US$108/month, three-fourths of the system owners earned less than US$100/month, which is close to the national average. Recently the average system size had decreased from over 40 Wp to about 20 Wp, including the sales of large numbers of 12-14 Wp packaged systems.

Expanding interest in SHSs in the late 1980s and early 1990s was accompanied by a change in the retail network and the development of a diverse regional network of assembly, sales, installation, and maintenance businesses. While solar panels are still imported, local companies now manufacture batteries for use in PV systems, and the 'balance-of-system' (electronics, charge controllers, lights and outlets, and other components) is assembled or manufactured in Kenya. Local agents now sell over half of all modules, and three-fourths of the PV batteries. Sales of SHSs in Kenya have been increasing at 10 - 18% per year, and this trend is expected to continue.

PV systems have had a significant impact in Kenya and East Africa. Surveys indicate that most of the systems (> 60%) were performing well, with the majority of the remaining systems not in use because the battery had no charge (Acker and Kammen, 1996; Msinga et al., 1997). Most users purchased PV for the combined services of lighting, TV, and radio, and were pleased with the systems and would recommend them to others. In many locations the PV systems are simply cheaper than the kerosene, diesel or other alternatives, and in virtually every case the service provided by the SHS is superior in quality and reliability to these alternatives.

The PV experience in Kenya has also proved to be an important model for SHS introduction efforts in other developing nations (Cabraal et al., 1995), and Kenya as well as a number of other nations are now the target for international aid and development funding to expand the markets for rural PV in developing nations. Kenya has also become the focus for a regional PV market that extends into neighbouring nations, as well as to other regions of Africa.

Lessons Learned
A variety of lessons emerge from the Kenya experience. First, a relatively small set of organisations and individuals providing training and support services can provide a critical infrastructure for an emerging technology. Second, subsidies are not necessarily needed to promote technology transfer, although logistical support, training courses, and performance standards all have central roles that require policy attention and commitments of resources. Critical to the sustainability of the PV industry has been the diversity of commercial interests. The role for government and international policy action is also significant, and includes setting policies that promote independent power producers, limit or remove taxes and tariffs on desirable clean energy alternatives, and provide credit or financing to both companies and end-users.

Acker, R., and D.M. Kammen, 1996: The quiet (energy) revolution: the diffusion of photovoltaic power systems in Kenya. Energy Policy, 24, 81 - 111.
Cabraal, A., M. Cosgrove-Davies, and L. Schaeffer, 1995: Best Practices for Photovoltaic Household Electrification Programs. World Bank Technical Paper Number 324, Asia Technical Department Series, Washington, DC.
Msinga, M., M. Hankins, D. Hirsch, and J. de Schutter, 1997: Kenya Photo-Voltaic Rural Energy Project (KENPREP): Results of the 1997 Market Survey. Energy Alternatives Africa, Nairobi.

Mark Hankins
Energy Alternatives Africa
P. O. Box 76406, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: +254-2-254-714623 or 716284
Fax: +254-2-720909

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