The unveiling of Kenya’s Vision 2030 marked a significant milestone in the country’s development. Important among its three key aspects is the social pillar that emphasizes on the need for an equitable social development in a clean and secure environment based on the transformation of eight critical social sectors including education and training, environment, equity, poverty reduction, among others (“Kenya Vision 2030”, 2007). This is in accordance with Goal 7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 that among other proposals aims at ensuring worldwide access to inexpensive, consistent, and contemporary energy sources as well as intensifying the distribution of renewable energy in the universal energy composition considerably by 2030 (UN, 2015).
Essential to Kenya’s quest for sustainability through the promotion of the use of renewable energy sources is the Rural Electrification Authority, a corporate body established in 2006 under Section 66 of the Energy Act 2006 and authorized to fast-track and manage rural electrification (REA, 2018). Nonetheless, several challenges exist in the rural areas including but not limited to low income and the high cost of connection that have considerably frustrated the efforts towards connecting such areas with established grid systems (IEA, 2014).
However, research shows that because the capital for off-grid photovoltaic solar energy is relatively lower than grid connection, solar energy remains the best option for Kenyan rural populations (Boampong & Phillips, 2016). This is in consideration that a sharp decline in global solar costs and improvements in solar technology have thrust the market for solar energy across the world (Shankleman & Warren, 2017). Therefore, while the grid system remains unreasonable expensive for the realization of a sustainable Kenya, the solar energy can act as a better alternative to the traditional biomass and kerosene fuel commonly used in rural Kenya.
Kenya is a country of many differences, from the landscape to its population, and majorly its economic inequalities (UNICEF, 2018). According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 42% of Kenya’s total population (of over 45 million) live below the poverty line, most of which reside in rural areas (UNICEF, 2018). Therefore, most people in the rural areas are often at a disadvantaged end, making them heavily rely on the traditional biomass and kerosene fuel regardless of their resulting adverse effects both to the environment and to the health of consumers, hence warranting the subsequent need for alternative better energy sources.
The primary objective of this study will be to explore why solar energy a feasible alternative source of energy in rural Kenya. The study will also analyze the impact of adopting and implementing solar energy in rural Kenya. Since better part of rural Kenya still heavily relies in traditional biomass fuel, the study will also assess the effects of over reliance on traditional biomass fuel and kerosene in rural Kenya. Finally the study will analyze the existing and unforeseen challenges facing adoption of solar energy in rural Kenya.
While the residents of rural Kenya have for a long time relied on non-renewable and unhealthy sources of energy for reasons such as the high cost of electricity, a better alternative, the solar energy technology, exists with many advantages associated to it. The significance of this study will be, therefore, to educate and inform the audience on the need to adopt and implement solar energy in rural Kenya as an alternative to traditional biomass and kerosene fuels based on its many advantages. The study can also act as policy guide to most developing countries in adoption of alternative clean energy.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), approximately 90% of the rural population worldwide relies on traditional biomass to meet their basic energy needs (IEA, 2006). Kenya is one of the developing countries that largely contributes to this statistic. With its estimated population of over 45 million and 70% living in rural areas, its citizens, more so the rural people heavily rely on the traditional biomass fuel including wood, agricultural by-products, and dung (Angwere & Kipchirchir, 2016). While the use of wood as a source of energy for cooking dominates these areas, charcoal is the primary substitute not only in the rural areas but also in more than 80% of the households residing in urban areas of Kenya (Kiplagat, Jeremiah & Wang, R.Z. & Li, 2011). According to Palz, Coombs, and Hall (2014), more than 65% of households in Kenya use primitive fuels like biomass at 65% and charcoal at 17% ,with the use of such fuels four times more in rural areas than in urban areas (Lam, Smith, Gauthier, & Bates, 2012).
On the other hand, kerosene, despite its adverse health effects is primarily used for lighting in rural areas and cooking among the urban poor (Palz, Coombs, & Hall, 2017), putting the environment and the consumers’ lives at risk. Mugo and Gathui (2010) wrote that “empirical research on the consumption of energy show that energy demand and supply differ significantly between medium and high potential areas, rural and urban areas, and between different geographical and topographical differences of various regions” (Mugo & Gathui, 2010). Such differences significantly influence the type of fuel preferred in specific areas. Nonetheless, the level of disposable income among Kenyan households plays a central role in the kind of fuel a family consumes for domestic use (Mugo & Gathui, 2010).
Other factors affecting the choice include the availability and affordability of the fuels, price of alternatives, cooking and consumption habits, convenience, the uncertainty of substitutes, education, size of the household, among others (Mugo & Gathui, 2010). Taking all these into consideration, most homes in rural Kenya, according to the authors, prefer using firewood and kerosene because of their perceived benefits. Overall, most Kenyan rural households spend between 5-10% of their income on energy and mostly on kerosene (Gunther, 2017). Compared to the consumption rate among the European households which stands at 4%, this percentage is relatively higher (Gunther, 2017), hence a significant hindrance to economic development for an extensive section of the rural population. This trend shows that if the habit of using solar energy is adopted instead, the unnecessary spending on these hazardous fuels might be cut down and invested somewhere else (Waruru, 2017). In Rwanda, for example, the completion of an 8.5-megawatt solar power plant not only provided alternative and clean fuel to the residents but also jobs as well as a reduction in the money spent on energy (Smith, 2015), hence improving their living standards.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), the traditional combustion of biomass usually characterized by open fires or inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated spaces is the leading cause of pulmonary-related illnesses (WHO, 2016). Further, acute respiratory infections, a chief cause of child mortality in the world (Bruce, Perez-Pedilla, & Albalak, 2000), has been associated with household air pollution, intrinsically linked to the combustion of biomass fuels for domestic use (Mishra, 2003). Besides, research also shows that cumulatively, the traditional sources of energy are more expensive because of the need to continually buy or harvest them as well as the cost for medication for the fuel-related health and environmental issues (Boampong & Phillips, 2016). In fact, statistics show that almost 18% of the global GHG emission emanates from burning of traditional biomass (Bond, 2007), and a substantial amount of carbon monoxide and methane end up in the atmosphere because of the continued use of kerosene fuel (Smith et al., 2000), making them quite dangerous to the ecosystem.
Regrettably, one of the common problems facing Kenya today is deforestation because of the high demand for wood, charcoal, and persistent harvesting practices for commercial use (Mugo & Ong, 2006). This has made the forested Kenyan lands disappear at an alarming rate, leading to subsequent loss of water catchment areas (Atieno, 2010). Coupled with poor governance, continued increase in population, lack of adequate knowledge and experience, and the demand for wood and agricultural land at the same time, the situation has continued to worsen. This has seen Kenya bear the burden of global warming and climate change with the temperatures having risen to over 30 degrees in the recent years (Kahongeh, Mutua, & Atieno, 2018). As observed by Ellabban, Abu-Rub, and Blaabjerg (2014), the solution to such a problem is “unlearning the exploitative culture of traditional fuel consumption and substituting it with technologically suitable sources” (Ellabban et al., 2014), the solar energy technology.
In comprehensively addressing the research questions, the research will primarily make use of published literature, government sites, and a first-hand data in a mixed-research design. For a quantitative analysis, data collection will supplement the available literature and offer an in-depth understanding of the study. Moreover, through data collection, various issues underlying the traditional use of biomass fuel in Kenya will be brought into perspective. Key to the data collection will also be the working models of solar energy in Kenya and Rwanda, given that Rwanda is near Kenya and has a better history of solar power for its communities. The data will then be analyzed through an appropriate statistical technique.