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January 24, 2019

Powering the economy through solar panels

KENYA continues to experience healthy economic growth due to increased foreign direct investments, better living standards in the urban areas and more multi-nationals setting up base in Nairobi as they seek to penetrate the regional market.

 The upward trajectory in economy has seen the construction of iconic commercial buildings as investors – local and international – seek to tap into limited office space and take advantage of the robust retail market. This competition in the property market is being driven by Nairobi’s status as an investment hub for the East and Central African region.

 Devolution in Kenya has also spurred more activity in the construction sector as counties seek to erect mega structures that will positively impact development in their respective areas. New buildings going up include county offices, hospitals, schools and agricultural facilities such as factories and processing plants.

 The 2016 City Momentum Index report by Jones Lang LaSalle points out Kenya’s booming economy as the driving force behind the development of new infrastructure and the country’s booming real estate sector. These activities, according to the report, have enabled Nairobi’s expansion as it registers among the highest levels of office and retail construction of any city globally at the moment.

 The new constructions amounts to a fast-growing demand for power, which the current grid capacity sometimes struggles to meet its demand, resulting in power rationing or blackouts. The interruption to business operations stifles efficiency, and therefore profits.

 Never in Kenya’s history has the need for new energy solutions been more evident than right now. Only 25 per cent of Kenyan population is connected to the national electricity grid, with rural grid access at about five per cent. It is also estimated that there is a 300-megawatt electricity shortfall at peak hours (6.30pm to 10.30pm), when most domestic consumers switch on electricity from the country’s total 2,282MW capacity. Also, much of Kenya’s energy is currently provided by expensive, dirty diesel generators – not good news for the business bottom line, or the environment.

 To move Kenya away from diesel sources, and to help meet the energy deficit, Kenya’s government is increasingly looking to renewables as the antidote to its power woes. Heat from the earth’s core, the wind, the water, and the sun are all freely available and sustainable – harnessing them can supply an endless source of energy. In Kenya, the long daylight hours make it particularly well suited to solar technology, which generates electricity even in cloudy conditions.

 Recognising this, a growing number of businesses throughout East Africa are installing solar systems to generate solar electricity for powering facilities in buildings such as lights, air con or machinery.

Solar roof systems are particularly well suited to dense urban environments, where land is at a premium, and power demand is high. Solar is highly scalable and flexible which enables it to be integrated in innovative ways. A great example is the solar carport that was constructed on the roof of the carpark at Garden City Mall in Nairobi last year.

There is no better illustration to show how planning at the initial design stage of a new mega structure can easily incorporate solar, which provides a source of electricity to power the building during daylight hours, thereby reducing reliance on grid energy.

 Such systems – known as solar hybrid - are dispelling the common perception that solar is the preserve of households and communities with no access to grid energy. In fact, there are examples around the world of structures with solar integrated in clever ways, such is the global opportunity for solar PV.

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