Solar the answer to EA’s energy demand

The solar carport at Nairobi’s Garden City Mall illustrates that it is possible to integrate clean energy generation technologies into dense urban environments, where competition for space and energy can be challenging.

Thursday March 10 2016

The Garden City Mall has the largest solar

The Garden City Mall has the largest solar carport in Africa. It can power 550 urban homes in Nairobi annually. PHOTO| DIANA NGILA 

By GUY LAWRENCE

Kenya continues to experience healthy economic growth due to increased foreign direct investments (FDI), better living standards in the urban areas, and more multi-nationals setting up base in the capital city

as they seek to penetrate the regional market.

The upward trajectory in the 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 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 (CMI) report by Jones Lang LaSalle, an investment management company specialising in real estate, 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.

FAST-GROWING DEMAND FOR POWER

All of this new construction amounts to a fast-growing demand for power, with current grid capacity sometimes struggling to meet this demand, which results in power rationing or blackouts.

This interruption to business operations stifles efficiency, and therefore, profits.

Never in the country’s history has the need for new energy solutions been more evident than now. Only 25 per cent of the Kenyan population is connected to the national electricity grid, with rural grid access

at about 5 per cent. It is also estimated that there is a 300MW electricity shortfall at peak hours (6.30pm to 10.30pm), when most domestic consumers switch on electricity from the country’s total 2,282 MW

capacity.

This, yet heat from the earth’s core, the wind,  water, and the sun are all freely available and sustainable;  harnessing them can supply an endless source of energy. Kenya has long daylight hours, making 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 and 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.

SOLAR HYBRID

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.

For example, Blackfriars Bridge spans the River Thames that flows through the heart of London, England. The bridge functions as a train station and busy commuter rail link into the city. The panels meet

nearly half of the train station’s annual energy needs.

The solar system at Garden City Mall comprises 3,364 solar panels; the structure not only provides 454 parking spaces and 6,000 square metres of car park shade, but also generates 1,450mWh of clean

electricity annually, equivalent to powering 550 urban homes in Nairobi every year. By using solar electricity rather than grid energy, the mall will reduce carbon emissions by around 18,750 tonnes over the

lifetime of the solar system.

Solar hybrid technology is a highly innovative energy solution that works alongside the power from the grid, and in combination with a diesel generator. During daylight hours, the solar panels generate solar

electricity, and if the grid goes down, the system generates solar electricity alongside the diesel generator.

According to MasterCard’s African Cities Growth Index (ACGI) 2015, Nairobi is one of the cities with the highest growth potential  globally, and it is expected to grow rapidly in the next five years. As a

continental financial and investment hub, its commercial property sector is as robust as ever. It is commendable for new buildings to adopt environmentally friendly technologies, such as solar, in order to

generate clean energy, which reduces reliance on fossil fuels.

Businesses need to take a long-term view of their energy needs – Garden City’s carport will, for instance, generate free electricity for at least the next 25 years, possibly up to 40 years. If all the shopping

centres and buildings with unused roof spaces in Nairobi and other towns and cities installed solar, there would be far less need to rely on grid power and diesel energy. The amount of additional solar

electricity generated by the panels could help  meet the energy demand of the new and existing businesses, many of which need a secure, reliable source of energy around the clock.

 

The writer is the director of Solarcentury in East Africa