During Raphael Osoro’s internship at Bamburi Cement, the company was saddled with the responsibility of providing hot bathing water for the workers because cold water does not clean the cement dirt properly. However, providing hot water for every worker meant an additional operational cost for the company, in terms of electricity bills.
“We needed a cheaper alternative and I was tasked to develop a solar water heating system for the company. A good coincidence because, back at school, I was already in the process of designing a solar water heating system. I took the opportunity and delved deeper to research and further test the viability of my design,” says the 26-year-old graduate of Mechanical Engineering for the University of Nairobi.
At the time of this internship, Raphael was in his final year and a regular participant at the Fablab, a maker’s space at the university where multidisciplinary designers meet to come up with different designs that can be developed to solve various problems in society. It was at this lab that he had initially started constructing the idea of a locally made solar water heating system.
“Further research revealed that this was a viable project because the solar water heating systems we had in the country then were all imported making them too expensive,” he says.
When he went back to school and embarked on his final year project, he paired up with Sheila Sergon, 25, also a mechanical engineering student.
“The idea of a solar water heating system design appealed to me because it is all about renewable energy, which is in line with my desire to protect the environment. The mentor we worked with during the design process was also keen on energy conservation and she greatly motivated us to progress,” Sheila explains.
After graduation, the duo decided to breathe life into the project and that is how the idea of Sunraserg Energy Experts was born.
“From what was just a design in school, after we graduated, we moved to the fabrication stage which meant implementation of the design, assembling all parts of the system make a solar heating system functional,” Sheila says.
“Our initial capital was Sh 80000; for space acquisition. We each contributed from our savings and raised Sh 40000. The remaining Sh 40000 came from the pilot installation which we did for my mum. She trusted us and thankfully, the installation was a success,” Raphael explains.
Sunraserg Energy Experts is fully registered and they are both certified solar water heating technicians by the Energy Regulatory Commission so people also call them to inspect, install and commission solar water heating systems.
“The company has existed for six months now and so far, we have done seven installations – three commercial installations – one at Starehe Girls and two at White Rose Dry Cleaners, and four residential installations in Nairobi and Nakuru,” Raphael says.
A commercial installation takes about three weeks to install while a residential installation takes up to two days. This time difference is informed by the size and detail that go into the different installations.
“A commercial installation costs about Sh 1,000,000 with a profit margin of 30 per cent while a domestic installation costs around Sh 115,000 with the same profit margin,” Raphael explains.
On a day to day basis, Sheila does marketing of their products to clients as well as getting their feedback which she then communicates to Raphael and a third partner who work mostly on the designs.
“Sometimes, we outsource people to help with the fabrication. Our working materials include mild steel, copper, tempered glass, insulation, galvanized sheets, plumbing fittings and safety valves,” she explains.
“For designs, we use a software called Solidworks. We design every single detail of the product as it should look, and that is also the point where we come up with the fabricating techniques and see how components fit. We then call the supplier and cost the material to the rough estimate of the whole project so that by the end of the design process, we know accurately, how much we need to make the system,” Raphael explains.
Additionally, they conduct regular research on their systems as well as their competitors’.
“Pushing the brand is one of our greatest challenges. Most people only know about the old, existing brands and the fact that we are less than a year old in the market, some people are a bit skeptical of our work because our first installation has not lasted up to a year so even for us, proving that our installations are durable is not easy,” Sheila explains.
“Expansion and having to match high quality systems from places like Germany calls for a substantial capital investment. So the challenge still boils down to building our muscle to beat and overtake the existing big brands,” Raphael concludes.