A renewable energy company is banking on solar technology to address the twin challenges of climate change and deforestation in western Kenya.
Solar Fire Concentration company, in partnership with World Vision and Wärtsilä, a global leader in advanced technologies and complete life-cycle solutions for marine and energy markets, is using its pioneer GoSol product to harvest the sun’s energy before cheaply and efficiently turning it into heat.
GoSol can generate up to 6kW of energy for six hours in moderate weather, and has been under development for 15 years.
Chief executive officer Eva Wissenz says the technology uses locally available materials, such as steel and mirrors, to concentrate sunlight onto a single point, creating enormous heat (up to 300°C).
“The technology is simple, efficient and its maintenance easy,” says Wissenz. “It’s the beginning of a big change in renewable energy for small and medium enterprises.”
The mirror rays can be scaled and adapted to perform almost any task powered by heat — which means it can be used to bake bread, roast groundnuts, boil water, fry food or dry vegetables, fruit and fish.
At the industrial level, the technology can also power steam engines to grind grain, pump water or turn machinery.
REDUCED CHARCOAL USE
“Climate change and its devastating effects on agriculture and food production are visible in Kenya, and this low-cost technology is part of the solution to prevent climate change,” says Wissenz.
Lornah Omwodo, Kisumu County chief officer for energy and climate change, says the county is working on a climate change policy that will regulate, among others, carbon emissions.
“We will share the idea with other counties, among them Nandi, Vihiga and Siaya to ensure that the project is successful,” said Ms Omwodo.
GoSol company in 2010 supported two SMEs to build solar concentrators in Kisumu and Siaya. The units were made by local artisans, trained on the job, using available materials.
“The results of the project pilot have proved successful, with one bakery and a women’s group producing peanut butter using the solar devices and technology in the last 10 months,” says Wissenz.
A peanut butter cottage industry, Yier Ngima Group in Karemo, Siaya County, has produced organic peanut butter using solar energy concentrators.
The group has reported reduced charcoal consumption costs by 100 per cent during the sunny season, which in turn has diminished the negative side effects of charcoal use.
Also, the resulting butter tastes better and employees are no longer exposed to toxic fumes, improving their health.
The second pilot unit, Koptigei Bakery in Tinderet, Nandi County, has seen a considerable reduction in operating costs through use of solar technology. They have increased their production, providing more schools with baked goods and saving thousands of shillings per month on electric power.
Additionally, the business is no longer affected by the unpredictable supply of electricity via the national grid.
Wissenz says the solar project is now expanding to other regions in Africa, including Tanzania.