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School dropout lighting up villages

Thursday December 1 2011

By RONNEL ONCHAGWA [email protected] AND PONCIANO ODONGO [email protected]

When Charles Otieno Ogwel, 35, dropped out of school in Form Three, everybody wrote him off. He had no future, they said.

However, Mr Otieno has proved the pessimists wrong through his skills in electronics.

With his new gadget, a modified inverter, he believes the poor can also have access to electricity in a cost-friendly manner.

When he was a child, he had unique toys. “They either had a colourful lighting system or a motor that would propel them, unlike my childhood friends who always struggled to push theirs manually,” he says.

Before Mr Otieno joined secondary school, he had developed an interest in repairing wrist watches, popularly known then as discos.

He also developed an interest in repairing radios in his village, sometimes for free. He nicknamed Jawaya, Dholuo for electrician.


Mr Otieno is now lighting up rural homes where Kenya Power has not yet reached to provide electricity.

At a cost of Sh12,000, a homestead will get electricity as his inverter converts solar energy into high voltage alternating current.

One needs a solar panel, an accumulator, and the specifications of the domestic appliances to be used.

Mr Otieno then determines, through calculations, the type of inverter, in terms of capacity, suitable for that home. He then makes an inverter that suits his clients’ need.

Mr Otieno says he started his research about 10 years ago when living at Kawangware slums in Nairobi, where he says there was no electricity.

Many people bought imported inverters, which failed after a short time.

He worked to repair his inverter before helping to fix his neighbours’. At the time, he worked as a part-time electrical technician and was the only one in charge of repairing inverters.

The father-of-three says he has spent more than Sh250,000 on research to come up with the modified gadgets and has sold close to 10,000 customised inverters.

He is also working on obtaining patent rights for the inverter.

He has customised his inverters’ consumption, capacity, and durability. He says a good inverter should have low input and high output to provide enough current to electrical appliances.

In his small High Tech Power Electronics workshop at Kitengela, Mr Otieno has a simple machine he uses to make copper wire coils that are an integral part his inverters.

He also employees three young men and is training two others.

Mr Otieno believes that with the current difficult economic times, converting natural resources like solar energy to usable electrical power is the way to go.

“Many people cannot afford to pay electricity bills due to poverty. Fuels like paraffin are also expensive,” he says.

Depending on its specifications, the inverter can run a colour TV, some computer models, radio, and as many as 24 energy-saving bulbs.

Mr Otieno also does domestic wiring and security system installations.