Green energy all around

Kenya’s energy sector is growing. By 2030, the Kenyan Government wants the entire rural population to have access to electricity. This is an ambitious plan, since only 15% of the population in rural areas is currently connected to the electricity grid.

Families in low-income households therefore often use energy sources such as petroleum lamps, kerosene and diesel generators, which are harmful to health and the environment.

Solar technology provider Solinc East Africa Ltd. wants to offer Kenyans a natural, environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. Solinc specialises in solar-home-systems, or portable solar panels which can illuminate houses, charge mobile phones and even operate televisions.

The company began as a joint venture between the Dutch company Ubbink East Africa Ltd. and the Kenyan company ABM Ltd. In 2015, the Kenyan partners gained a majority share and changed the company’s name to Solinc East Africa Ltd. Despite the new name, the goal remains the same: to provide rural areas with solar power and develop the African market.

‘Entry into the Kenyan market proved to be a challenge for our company. Our product was good and the demand for alternative energy was there, but private households lacked the financing options to raise the funds required for solar panels,’ says Managing Director Haijo Kuper.

To make matters even more challenging, many of the other solar devices available on the market were defective and not properly installed. In order to convince Kenyans of the benefits of clean and affordable solar energy, Solinc decided to enter into a development partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH - made possible by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) through the develoPPP.de-programme.

‘Our main target group includes low-income households in rural areas with no access to electricity,’ explains Amos Otieno, project manager at Solinc. ‘However, many of these people live hand to mouth. We need to convince them that our products will improve their quality of life on a daily basis.’

In order to educate Kenyans about the benefits of solar energy, Solinc organised nationwide information events in villages and communities together with GIZ. These presented solar energy as a healthy and cost-effective alternative to kerosene lamps and highlighted the advantages and longevity of a clean energy supply.

Although Kenyans were impressed by the solar-home-systems, there was still one problem. Depending on their output, the solar-home-systems can cost up to USD 400, a considerable amount for low-income households.

With the help of GIZ, Solinc therefore developed a financing plan, which allows even the most socially deprived households to acquire solar-home-systems. Solinc offered its products to local Savings Aand Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs) at a reduced rate. These then sold the solar-home-systems to members of their communities in return for payment by instalments over a period of six to twelve months. A total of 25 SACCOs now work with Solinc.

Our cooperation with Solinc means that we can ensure that our farmers receive high-quality solar-home-systems,’ explains SACCO President Hon. Charles Jacob Maiyo. More than 200 solar-home-systems have already been allocated through his SACCO and are now providing electricity for tea farmers in the surrounding area. ‘The solar-home-systems mean that we can support smallholders and their families in improving their quality of life and simultaneously promote environmentally friendly practices.’

Solar energy is a novelty for many Kenyans. This provides new opportunities, but also leads to questions and misunderstandings. Solinc has set up a special hotline so that its customers do not have to deal with these problems on their own. Customers can call to discuss their concerns until 10 pm.

Solinc also supports proactive communication with consumers. ‘After each sale, we follow-up with a phone call,’ explains Hellen Kuhunya, head of customer service. ‘We ask customers whether they are pleased with the product and our service. We want to show them that their opinions are important to us. This inspires trust.’

Solar energy is a novelty for many Kenyans. This provides new opportunities, but also leads to questions and misunderstandings. Solinc has set up a special hotline so that its customers do not have to deal with these problems on their own. Customers can call to discuss their concerns until 10 pm.

Solinc also supports proactive communication with consumers. ‘After each sale, we follow-up with a phone call,’ explains Hellen Kuhunya, head of customer service. ‘We ask customers whether they are pleased with the product and our service. We want to show them that their opinions are important to us. This inspires trust.’

First designed to aid customer retention, this approach quickly provided valuable insights into consumer requirements. ‘The follow-ups allowed us to discover how our products could be better adapted to the wishes and ideas of customers,’ says Kuhunya. ‘The feedback helps us to increase revenue and supply even more people with solar power.’

To convince customers of the benefits, Solinc offers a two-year guarantee on its solar-home-systems. It held three-day workshops to train selected technicians on how to install, repair and maintain the solar-home-systems properly.

The repair and maintenance services are provided nationwide in five regional service centres, thus avoiding additional costs and long journeys to repair centres far away. The repair service is an additional source of income for technician Robert Sang. He is happy when the solar lamps are working again and he can simply deliver them back to their owners.

Only if complex repairs are required are the solar-home-systems sent to a special repair centre in Naivasha. There, they are carefully checked, which can take up to a week.

During this time, Solinc provides a replacement device – at no cost – so that customers are not left without power: ‘Customers have already invested a great deal of money and placed their trust in our product,’ explains Otieno. ‘With the services we provide, we are showing customers that they have chosen the right provider of solar-home-systems.’

Looking back, Otieno’s experience of the develoPPP.de project has been positive: ‘The support from GIZ was decisive for the success of the project. We had previously concentrated on product development and assembly instead of raising awareness of and marketing our solar systems. GIZ showed us how important it is to get consumers on board and to educate them about the benefits of solar energy.’

Solinc now plans to expand to other African countries. The demand is there: Solinc has already exported 5,000 solar-home-systems to Uganda, but it will be a long time before solar power reaches all corners of Africa.

Facts | Figures

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households supplied with solar power.
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organisations and traders trained as distributors.

New Products

A financing model based on microloans has been established.

Health

Switching to green power protects peoples' health and the environment.