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Rural Kenyans embrace solar lamps

08 August 2014, 14:49

Nairobi - Living in a village in Busia, on the border of Kenya and Uganda, Joyce Nanjala is an ecstatic woman.

Nanjala is happy because for the past four months, she has not used a tin lamp to light her home.

Her nephew who lives in Nairobi, the capital, bought for her two solar lamps, which have transformed her life and changed the way she operates her home. The solar lamps can also be recharged using electricity.

"I do not have to struggle to go and buy kerosene at a market centre in the village so that I can light my home. I used to use a kerosene lantern in my sitting room and a tin lamp in the kitchen, " recounted Nanjala on Thursday.

Her switch to the solar lamps has cut her expenses as she no longer has to buy expensive kerosene almost every day. Nanjala now uses money that she could have spent on the fuel to buy food for her five children, among other things.

She is among dozens of families in rural Kenya which are embracing solar lamps for lighting as they seek cleaner and efficient energy.

The solar lamps, which go for between 21 U.S. dollars and 46 dollars depending on the size and functions, are sold in both urban and rural towns.

Dealers are hawking the lamps on the streets of urban and rural towns to reach more buyers.

Those lamps that go for lower prices are only used for lighting while the high cost have several functions that include lighting and charging up to 10 mobile phones.

This means that one can make money from charging mobile phones. Many Kenyans in rural areas spend between 0.23 dollars and 0.34 dollars to charge their cell phones.

In the case of those who own smart phones, one can spend up to 2.3 dollars in a week to charge the devices, which consume a lot of power.

"I charge my mobile phone, that of my husband and those of other members of my family using the solar lamps. All I need to do is to ensure that they are fully charged. I usually put them in the sun to charge," said Nanjala.

Experts note that for many people in rural Kenya, lack of clean energy for lighting means less productivity and rise in diseases, mainly respiratory.

Kenya's Ministry of Energy statistics indicate that Kenyans spend up to 989 million dollars annually on kerosene.

"Using kerosene to light homes translates to low productivity. Children for instance cannot read effectively using kerosene light. Besides, families have to deal with extra costs of buying the fuel. Solar lamps are definitely a better option," said Maurice Onzere, a business development coordinator at Global Village Energy Partnerships.

He notes that uptake of solar lamps is on the rise in both rural and urban areas. However, it is not as high as one would wish because of higher prices.

A solar lamp with mobile charging unit is currently going for 46 dollars. Prices increased from 38 dollars last year following the introduction of 16 percent value added tax on solar products.

Solar-powered spotlights, which are ideal for rural areas, are now costing up to 34 dollars. Solar panels, on the other hand, are being sold for 574 dollars for 60 watt and 804 dollars for 120 watts gadget.

Simon Maghanga, a sales agent with Clean Power Ltd., a solar gadgets firm, noted that uptake of the gadgets would be higher if prices had not shot up.

"Initially, people did not see the need to buy solar lamps because they were not multifunctional. But the incorporation of the mobile phone charging units on the lamps has really helped drive uptake, so has the rise in the number of people owning mobile phones."

There are currently 31.8 million people in the East African nation who own mobile phones out of 41 million population, a good number of them in rural areas, according to Communication Authority of Kenya. Solar lamps are thus coming in handy when it comes to charging the devices.

Awareness of the products among people in rural Kenya is also growing, thus pushing up demand, said Maghanga, who goes to agricultural exhibitions across Kenya to reach more people.

However, low incomes remain one of the biggest challenges in the uptake of the solar products.

 - Xinhua

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