The barrier to large-scale adoption of solar lighting has been the high initial cost of getting solar cells and solar panels needed to harness solar energy. Safaricom and M-Kopa, a mobile technology company based in Nairobi, have launched a GSM enabled pay-as-you-go solar solution where customers buy a solar home systems on credit and pay in daily instalments of KES 40 for one year before they get full ownership of the solar unit.
Is this the solution to the electrification problem in the rural areas?
The Rural Electrification Authority (REA) was established in order to accelerate the pace of rural electrification in the country. Despite the presence of REA, access to rural electrification, to some, is still a hustle. For instance, if your premises are over six hundred metres from the nearest transformer you will have to apply as a group or individually, for installation of a transformer nearer you before you can get electricity connection.
Despite this, bureaucracy in the connection process can be discouraging for some. First you will need to apply and pay the necessary connection charges, which could at least cost KES 35,000. Next, site visits might have to be done. Then there is the required wiring in your house that should be done by a licensed electrician. Finally there is the meter deposit which you have to pay and is determined by your expected consumption and tariff category.
Considering we now have an affordable option to solar energy, will M-Kopa make it easy for rural dwellers access lighting?
Currently M-Kopa solar is available in Eldoret and Kaitale with plans of rolling out the service in the North Rift Nyanza and Western parts of the country over the next quarter and plans to avail the service all over the country in the coming year.
Buying the solar unit on credit entails paying an initial deposit of KES 2,500 then pay daily instalments of KES 40 for one year. In total you will spend about KES 17,100. This is slightly less than half of the electricity connection fee which is at least KES 35,000, not to mention the meter deposit fee.
According to M-Kopa, the solar home system is quick and easy to set up. All you need to do is mount the solar panel on the roof, place the control unit in a safe and convenient place indoors and connect the light. Labour here is free, and five minutes of your time. Electricians are slightly more expensive.
Electricity from the national grid can be used to power your radio, TV, heat water and in lighting, just to mention a few uses. This is where M-Kopa solar takes a back seat. This solar system can be used to power 3 bright bulbs and charge mobile phones though according to M-Kopa new products are coming soon that may be able to do more.
The solar unit has a product lifespan of 7-10 years meaning you will enjoy free solar energy for about 6 years after completing the KES 40 daily instalments which you will incur over the first year of purchasing the unit, saving you on costs associated with monthly electricity bills.
Solar energy has been known to be pocket friendly in the long run, with future nationwide distribution and developments on M-Kopa solar units which will probably enable them power more electricity equipment’s, solar energy may just be the solution to rural electrification.