A leap, a beam, a change: Lighting solutions for off-grid schools in Kenya

According to officials at the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum in Kenya, the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) has provided electricity to around 250 off-grid public schools from November 2014 to date, through solar photovoltaic systems. The  REA is a government agency in Kenya, which was established under the Energy Act of 2006, to accelerate the pace of rural electrification. There are about 5,000 public primary schools that are not connected to the National or Micro grid, with 4,481 electrified through the National Grid and 603 through Solar PV.
The solar lighting initiative was at inception, meant to support the current government’s gallant promise to have every student aged between 6-7 years, use a laptop; however, the programme has evolved to simply providing lighting solutions to learning institutions that are unconnected to grid power. The programme that started in Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Kitui, Lamu and Tana River counties, has spread to cover other areas such as Narok and Kisii County shown in Map I below.

Map I: Map of the 47 Counties in Kenya (Source: http://softkenya.com/county/)

Currently 220 schools have been electrified using stand-alone solar systems with a total capacity of 574.22 kW at a cost of Euros 6.16 million. However, an additional Euros 10 million has been provided by the Spanish government to electrify 380 selected institutions with solar.

One institution in Narok County  – Ngaambani Primary School, about 142km from Nairobi, with a student population of 200 students, has not had electricity connectivity for the last 30 years. However, in November 2014, through this government initiative, it was a beneficiary of the lighting initiative. This has seen the school’s performance increase with more students able to study in the evenings after class hours and early mornings before regular class hours. Further, it has increased the rate of enrollment in the school as more parents in the adjacent community feel it is a better learning environment. One interviewed parent stated “I went to nursery school and primary school at Ngaambani Primary, however, in my lifetime, I never thought that my children would be learning in classrooms that have electricity. The motivation to go to school in the village has gone up so much that the parents would like to add more classrooms.”
The current systems, though being purchased from different companies, have the same functional specifications – High efficiency crystalline silicon modules (Mono or Poly crystalline), Voltage at maximum power - 16.5 V (Minimum), Maximum system voltage: - 600V. This has ensured consistency in the solar lighting initiative, in terms of quality.

The initiative is definitely changing the lives of students in leaps and bounds.