Solar Energy as an Alternative Fuel in Rural Kenya

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According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), approximately 90% of the rural population worldwide relies on traditional biomass to meet their basic energy needs (IEA, 2006). Kenya is one of the developing countries that largely contributes to this statistic. With its estimated population of over 45 million and 70% living in rural areas, its citizens, more so the rural people heavily rely on the traditional biomass fuel including wood, agricultural by-products, and dung (Angwere & Kipchirchir, 2016). While the use of wood as a source of energy for cooking dominates these areas, charcoal is the primary substitute not only in the rural areas but also in more than 80% of the households residing in urban areas of Kenya (Kiplagat, Jeremiah & Wang, R.Z. & Li, 2011). According to Palz, Coombs, and Hall (2014), more than 65% of households in Kenya use primitive fuels like biomass at 65% and charcoal at 17% ,with the use of such fuels four times more in rural areas than in urban areas (Lam, Smith, Gauthier, & Bates, 2012). On the other hand, kerosene, despite its adverse health effects is primarily used for lighting in rural areas and cooking among the urban poor (Palz, Coombs, & Hall, 2017), putting the environment and the consumers’ lives at risk.

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Mugo and Gathui (2010) wrote that empirical research on the consumption of energy show that energy demand and supply differ significantly between medium and high potential areas, rural and urban areas, and between different geographical and topographical differences of various regions (Mugo & Gathui, 2010). Such differences significantly influence the type of fuel preferred in specific areas. Nonetheless, the level of disposable income among Kenyan households plays a central role in the kind of fuel a family consumes for domestic use (Mugo & Gathui, 2010). Other factors affecting the choice include the availability and affordability of the fuels, price of alternatives, cooking and consumption habits, convenience, the uncertainty of substitutes, education, size of the household, among others (Mugo & Gathui, 2010). Taking all these into consideration, most homes in rural Kenya, according to the authors, prefer using firewood and kerosene because of their perceived benefits. Overall, most Kenyan rural households spend between 5-10% of their income on energy and mostly on kerosene (Gunther, 2017). Compared to the consumption rate among the European households which stands at 4%, this percentage is relatively higher (Gunther, 2017), hence a significant hindrance to economic development for an extensive section of the rural population. This trend shows that if the habit of using solar energy is adopted instead, the unnecessary spending on these hazardous fuels might be cut down and invested somewhere else (Waruru, 2017).

In Rwanda, for example, the completion of an 8.5-megawatt solar power plant not only provided alternative and clean fuel to the residents but also jobs as well as a reduction in the money spent on energy (Smith, 2015), hence improving their living standards.According to World Health Organization (WHO), the traditional combustion of biomass usually characterized by open fires or inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated spaces is the leading cause of pulmonary-related illnesses (WHO, 2016). Further, acute respiratory infections, a chief cause of child mortality in the world (Bruce, Perez-Pedilla, & Albalak, 2000), has been associated with household air pollution, intrinsically linked to the combustion of biomass fuels for domestic use (Mishra, 2003). Besides, research also shows that cumulatively, the traditional sources of energy are more expensive because of the need to continually buy or harvest them as well as the cost for medication for the fuel-related health and environmental issues (Boampong & Phillips, 2016).

In fact, statistics show that almost 18% of the global GHG emission emanates from burning of traditional biomass (Bond, 2007), and a substantial amount of carbon monoxide and methane end up in the atmosphere because of the continued use of kerosene fuel (Smith et al., 2000), making them quite dangerous to the ecosystem.Regrettably, one of the common problems facing Kenya today is deforestation because of the high demand for wood, charcoal, and persistent harvesting practices for commercial use (Mugo & Ong, 2006). This has made the forested Kenyan lands disappear at an alarming rate, leading to subsequent loss of water catchment areas (Atieno, 2010). Coupled with poor governance, continued increase in population, lack of adequate knowledge and experience, and the demand for wood and agricultural land at the same time, the situation has continued to worsen. This has seen Kenya bear the burden of global warming and climate change with the temperatures having risen to over 30 degrees in the recent years (Kahongeh, Mutua, & Atieno, 2018). As observed by Ellabban, Abu-Rub, and Blaabjerg (2014), the solution to such a problem is unlearning the exploitative culture of traditional fuel consumption and substituting it with technologically suitable sources (Ellabban et al., 2014), the solar energy technology.

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Solar Energy As An Alternative Fuel In Rural Kenya. (2019, Nov 07). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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