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