Kenya Taps Solar to Power Digital Learning

In one of the most ambitious rural electrification projects in Africa that has tapped the use of solar energy, the Kenya government has completed connecting some 4,100 primary schools to power using solar PV systems.

The schools have been electrified as part of a determined digital learning program that will see electricity from the panels being used to power learning tablets currently being rolled out in public primary schools countrywide.

Under the project a total of 22,249 schools have been connected to power, with 18,074 of those being connected using grid extension, while another 4,175 have been powered by solar PV systems in areas far away from grid power lines, a statement by the country’s rural power body, Rural Electrification Authority (REA) said.

Under the National Public Primary Schools Electrification project started in 2103, a total of 23,375 have been identified for connection to power, including those now enjoying the power. Another 480 institutions will be connected by end of August 2016 according to REA, meaning that, save for upcoming schools, all operational schools in Kenya will be enjoying power by the end of August.

“At the completion of this project, a total of Kshs 35 billion (U.S. $350 million) will have been spent,” the authority said a statement by REA CEO Ng’ng’a Munyu, underlining one of the heaviest expenditures on power infrastructure in the country in recent history.

The REA, which has a mandate is to power rural Kenya, this month commenced construction of a 55-MW solar power plant in northern Kenya to light up the remote region bordering Somalia and connect it to the national grid.

Under the project, some 210,210 solar panels of 260 watts each will be used to guarantee residents in the region a stable source of renewable energy.

The solar power project, the biggest in the country so far, is expected to supply 625,000 homes with power and will be financed through concessional funding from the government of China at a cost of U.S. $125 million, and is due for completion by the end of 2017.

Another equally ambitious rural power project to extend electricity supply to 591 public facilities — including shopping centers, health facilities and water supply projects — and 35,460 households in 16 counties is being funded by U.S. $63.5 million from the Arab Development Bank, Saudi Fund for Development, OPEC fund for Development and the government of Kenya.

While Kenya, like most African countries, has an endless potential for solar energy, most of the rural areas of the country remain without power, mainly due to the high cost of infrastructure and low power generation.

The country has in recent years increased its installed capacity from 1,400 MW to about 2,400 MW, according to Energy Regulatory Commission figures, linking nearly 40 percent of households to power in the last six years.

Several wind, solar and geothermal power projects with a potential to produce 500 MW of power are under construction by both the government and private sector players, and most of them should be ready for commissioning in the next four years.

The National Public Primary Schools Electrification is a flagship project of the government of president Uhuru Kenyatta meant to supply power to all schools in the country of 44 million people.

Lead image credit: khym54 | Flickr

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Maina Waruru is a freelance journalist with an interest in science and climate change issues. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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