African Physics Newsletter

Two Siblings Provide Off-Grid Solar Energy Access in Kenya

The success story of two physicists brother who created a solar energy company in Kenya.

The citizens of Kenya have embraced solar energy utilization and the country serves as one of the worlds’ leading markets for off-grid solar energy. Reported sales of lighting global quality verified pico-solar products in Kenya was 947,000 units in 2015, translating to 30% of the market share in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the global association for the off-grid solar energy industry (GOGLA), 38.1 million products have been sold worldwide, delivering 17 MW in installed capacity. The high cost of grid energy in Kenya, 0.202 $/kWh for households in June 2020, has led to increase in demand on off-grid energy solutions as the country prides in being in the region with the world’s best solar irradiation.

A trusted partner

Based on these and other observations, Victor Okuna and Calvince Nyaruanda, founded Greenex Energy Limited in the year 2016, with Calvince responsible for business and policy development and Victor as the chief executive. The company, based in Migori, 350 km away from Nairobi city, is a trusted partner for reliable energy systems and a haven for green energy solutions, catering for homes, schools, businesses, farms, and industrial needs.

Suitable trainings

Calvince graduated in 2012 with a Master of Science degree in Physics (Renewable Energy) from Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya while his younger brother, Victor, graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering (power option) from the Technical University of Kenya. Victor later received training in solar PV design, installation and maintenance at the University of Nairobi Solar Energy Group, a qualification which resulted in all the success Greenex Energy enjoys.

He then founded Greenex Engineering which later transformed to Greenex Energy due to Calvince’s strong market base across Kenya and his college dream of supporting energy access to communities. The focus of the company is mainly on solar systems.

Improving the live of remote communities

This was Calvince’s first ever rewarding job, seven years after his graduation in 2009; many years of tarmacking! Greenex Energy has delivered electricity for lighting, water, and improved water storage capacities for remote communities. With sheer hard work and pinpoint focus, Greenex Energy has grown to become a medium scale solar energy company, competing with high profiled companies for the Kenyan market share.

As a business development officer, Calvince’s assignment was to identify the company’s business model. With no experience, but lots of theoretical knowledge, a lot of ideas were tested.

Facebook marketing

They walked from office to office, communicated through emails and phone calls, looking for jobs in energy audits, and soliciting for subcontracts from national grid projects, but these attempts failed to materialize. The frustrations persisted until one day Victor got a call from Libros Kenya, to participate in Safaricom’s energy audit for multi-stranded radio and base station controller as a technician.

They quickly opened a Facebook page where they shared their works. Marketing by Facebook gave them the visibility they desired and soon clients began to reach them via phone and direct messaging.

Successes and failures

Today, their business model focuses on ‘energy-water systems', ’energy-landscape systems’, ‘energy-education systems’, ‘energy-food systems’, and ‘energy-entertainment systems'. While they have enjoyed some successes, they have also experienced some failures. For example, their pioneer project of lighting homes, especially the poor households, failed because they relied entirely on donor funding, which did not materialize.

Greenex Energy has achieved a number of significant milestones. One of the key products it strongly prides itself in, is the installation of a solar water pump at their parents’ well. This has also enabled their neighbors to access free water, hence reducing their trekking distance by about 3 km.

From radio stations to boreholes

Other success stories include: powering Wajir radio station, a community station in North Eastern Kenya to allow locals to gain access to national news, information and entertainment; equipping a 280 m borehole in Dadaab, Kenya, to supply water for livestock in the semi-arid lands, equipping a community borehole in Kitui, an arid region in Eastern Kenya, supplying 60 m3 of water for fruit farming, among others.

The MD Ezex Engineering is a beneficiary of their quality services. He remarks: “I have seen Greenex engineers in the harshest parts of the country offering incredible support for various communities devising life-saving solutions. Greenex Energy staff are the most vibrant Humanitarian Engineers I have seen.”

Tests and retests

The satisfactory experience of their clients is the reason they have stretched their limits, and test and retest their installations before finally commissioning the projects for longevity. Due to their strong presence within the communities, they have received local and international recognition and awards, which include support by Kisumu County Government.

Further growth

As they focus into the next decade, Greenex Energy enlists the following as important fronts for future growth:

  1. Building new partnerships especially with institutions of higher learning, county government departments, and WASH programs institutions.
  2. Developing new project lines, which include ‘wells pooling’ and ‘landscape restoration'.
  3. Participating in policy development for renewable energy programs and natural resource governance.
  4. Committing to humanitarian progress in water, food, and lighting.

Their experience has shown that Kenya has the potential to solve her energy problems if appropriate policy interventions, skills integration, financing, and infrastructural support are channeled to harness the abundant solar energy radiation in the country.

Calvince O. Nyaruanda and Victor O. Nyaruanda

This article has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter - ©American Physical Society, 2021


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