Kisumu here I come

July 25, 2016

We are delighted to welcome Deidre Wolff, who has joined our East Africa team in Nairobi. Deidre is joining us from the Dublin Institute of Technology as this years travel scholar and will be supporting our Energy Hub programme over the next three months. Read Deidre’s blog from her first few weeks in Kenya. 

One month in Nairobi has gone by so quickly. I will be moving to Kisumu for one month and will back to Nairobi for the last month. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya, after Nairobi and Mombasa, and is located in Western Kenya near Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world and is divided by three countries- Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya; only 6% of the lake being in Kenya. To put the size of the lake in perspective, its surface area is close to that of Ireland! While in Kisumu, I will finally get to visit the communities that have been connected to a solar energy hub, and to see if ownership of the hub has had an impact on their livelihood.

But first, what have I been up to in Nairobi for the last month?

Work at Renewable World has been quite busy, with the team working on plans to extend the solar projects to other communities in Kenya and Tanzania. Over the last month, my tasks have included putting together cash flow spreadsheets for the six sites that are using solar power, collecting information on suppliers of DC appliances in Kisumu and Nairobi, and analysing consumption data from each of the communities.

To get cash flow information, I called the chairman and treasurer of the solar hub for each community to ask them what their monthly expenses are. While I had them on the phone, some of them also mentioned appliances that they needed. One common theme from the sites was their interest in solar lanterns for households and fishing. These would replace the use of kerosene lanterns. The fishing lanterns could be charged at the solar hub during the day and rented to the fisherman to use during the night, thus it is a business opportunity for the community. Geoffrey (the regional programme manager) and I were able to meet with one supplier of solar lanterns for household and fishing use to discuss some business model options. The meeting was very informative. Not only did I learn a lot about fishing, but also about what type of business models work best within a community and why. One of Renewable World’s objectives is to always involve the community, so an important part of the business model is that the community will own, run and benefit from the business.

solar lantern

I got in touch with various suppliers to start putting together a catalogue of appliances that will be provided to the communities. We previously brainstormed ideas for potential businesses that could be started in the communities and what they will require. However, I will not know exactly what is needed or what businesses they hope to start until I speak to the members of each community directly. The goal of the catalogue of appliances is to provide information on what types of appliances can be connected to the hubs and where to purchase them.  This way it is less likely that inefficient, energy intensive appliances will be purchased that will be very expensive to run, or will not work at all.

Finally, I have been analysing the consumption data for each site.  The solar hubs are connected to a metering system that measures half hourly consumption for each connection, tracks payments, and also provides lots of other information that I have yet to explore. I was able to download data and manipulate it in excel and R to prepare load profiles for daily, monthly, yearly consumption, as well as consumption for each individual connection. I gathered information on connections that are not utilizing electricity as well as those that are using over twice the amount of the average consumer in each community. This is important information, as if the reason for high consumption is inefficient appliances, this problem can easily be fixed to reduce the cost of electricity for that consumer. During the site visits, I plan to see what they are using electricity for and if replacement of old appliances may save them money in the long term.

Besides work at Renewable World, I have used my weekends to explore more of Nairobi. I went to the elephant orphanage, where baby elephants that have been found abandoned in the wild are nursed back to health. Once they are old enough, they are released back into the wild. I also went to the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), where you can get a great view of Nairobi. The view was incredible, as you could see the overview of how all the different areas of the city come together, from markets, parks, busy streets full of matatus, to high rises. Finally, I also took a tour of the United Nations. The tour included a presentation on the UN, and a guided walk through the conference rooms and the grounds. It is a huge facility and almost feels isolated from the city outside.

UN, KICC and Elephant Orphanage

Being a bit of a fitness fanatic, I found a yoga studio and a CrossFit gym in Nairobi.  I attend yoga classes after work and CrossFit on the weekends. I also went to a yoga class organized by the Africa Yoga Project with a few friends. They offer a two hour yoga class every Saturday by donation. It’s a great atmosphere, and leaves you feeling very energised! To get a bit more exercise during the day, I purchased a second hand bike to cycle to work and back. Cycling in and out of work allows me a bit of freedom from taxis, and is quicker and cheaper. I usually blast by the line of cars, however I always make sure to cycle only during busy times and before it gets dark. You have to use your street smarts in Nairobi, so for safety reasons I don’t cycle at dusk or early in the morning, and I always stick to the main streets. The cycle to work takes me about 15-25minutes depending on traffic.

I have also spent quite a bit of time in taxis in Nairobi, especially since it is the safer option after dark. For taxis, Uber is the most convenient way to order a taxi; however after the driver accepts the trip, you usually have to call to explain where you are. I had to learn the street names and orientation of the city fairly quickly. Sometimes a driver will also try to take you the long way to your destination, but the other good thing about Uber is that if the driver takes a bad route, you can email them to get a refund on the amount that you were overcharged. For the most part, the drivers are very good and will take you directly to the place you want to go. I sometimes ask the drivers about their work schedule because I have heard that in Nairobi many people will work very long hours, 7 days a week, so I was curious to find out what their work schedule was like. Most of the drivers told me that they do 24 hour shifts with a nap at around 10am when business is quiet, and then after three days they will get a full night of sleep of 6-8 hours. I was shocked at how common this was. One even said that he can often go four nights without sleeping, and that he knows his body well, so once four nights have gone by, he will sleep for 10 hours. There are also drivers who work part-time, either having other fulltime jobs during the day or attending university during the day.

For now, I get to say goodbye to Nairobi for a month, and I’m looking forward to exploring a new city!