News / Africa

    Power from Small Stream Transforms Kenyan Village

    Darren Taylor
    This is Part Two of a five-part series on Renewable Energy for Africa 
    Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


    Little more than a decade ago Mbuiru village in Tungu Kabiri district in central Kenya was a “typical African backwater,” said John Kapolon, of the UK-based Practical Action NGO. 
     
    The inhabitants of Mbuiru struggled to survive as subsistence farmers. Some of the villagers had skills such as welding and hairdressing they’d learned in the capital, Nairobi, 115 miles to the south. Many of them dreamed of owning their own businesses.

    ​But their desire to develop themselves remained unattainable. Mbuiru’s inhabitants were among the estimated 85 percent of Kenya’s population of 43 million who to this day do not have access to electricity, according to the United Nations.
     
    “I remember visiting the area and people really had a lot of problems. While communications technology was common in the cities, the people of Mbuiru had to walk long distances to find electricity just to charge their cellphones,” Kapolon recalled, adding, “Really, the people at Mbuiru had nothing….”
     
    But they did have a stream that wound its way down the slopes of Mount Kenya past their settlement. It proved to be perfect for a unique project that has transformed Mbuiru into an example of achievement in an otherwise impoverished, neglected district.

    • The government of Kenya intends following the example of the micro-hydro project at Mbuiru in the country’s central highlands (photo: Practical Action)
    • Water from a fast flowing tributary of the Tungu River generates electricity (Photo: Practical Action)
    • A canal leading off the stream takes water to a powerhouse, where electricity is generated.(Photo: Practical Action)
    • An aerial view of the powerhouse at Mbuiru.(Photo: Practical Action)
    • The turbine that drives the generator inside the powerhouse. (Photo: Practical Action)
    • Electricity is channeled to a business center in Mbuiru, where it charges batteries that are used to electrify individual households. (Photo: Practical Action)
    • Electricity has allowed villagers, like this man who’s established a barbershop, to open businesses. (Practical Action)
    • Entrepreneurship now reigns in Mbuiru, as the villagers have a regular supply of electricity as a result of their micro-hydropower venture. (Practical Action)

     
    Ideal site
     
    Clean power experts from Practical Action visited Mbuiru for the first time in 1999. “We immediately saw that it had a strong stream that could be used to generate electricity,” said Kapolon, a renewable energy project officer for the NGO.

    ​To be sure that a power generation scheme was sustainable at the village, the NGO employed experts to analyze the River Tungu’s flow records going back 40 years. The data showed that even during times of drought the stream at Mbuiru had never stopped running as it is constantly fed by ice melts and precipitation from nearby Mount Kenya. It was ideal for a micro-hydropower project, said Kapolon.
     
    The Tungu Kabiri project harnesses energy from falling water. A weir collects the water, which is then diverted through a concrete canal into a large tank. Water released from the tank goes down a pipeline into a powerhouse containing a turbine and a generator. Energy from the water turns the turbine, which then drives the generator to produce electricity.
     
    The community helped build the project. “All the manual labor and a bit of skilled labor, it all came from the community. What Practical Action did was to provide technical support in terms of designing the system and also supervising the construction, and also supplying a turbine and a generator,” said Kapolon.
     
    The NGO taught locals to maintain the micro-hydropower system.
     
    Pioneering clean power project
     
    The venture at Mbuiru is the first of its kind in East Africa and is providing a blueprint to governments in the region for water-saving and renewable energy.

    ​“Once the turbine turns from the running water, you divert the water back to the stream so you don’t waste water,” said Kapolon. “The big advantages of a micro-hydro plan are that you use little water to produce power, and it’s cheap when compared to other electricity schemes. It’s not very cost intensive because you are not putting up huge structures. You can generate power for one household with very little cost.”
     
    Kapolon said the Tungu Kabiri project is capable of generating 14 Kw [kilowatts] of electricity every 24 hours. It cost about $3,500 per installed Kw, so the project cost about $49,000 to implement. In contrast, it costs Kenya more than $30,000 per Kw installed by means of conventional hydropower.
     
    The Kenya Power company confirmed that about 60 per cent of the total electricity generated in Kenya is by hydropower, making conventional electricity extremely expensive.
     
    Kapolon said the project at Mbuiru doesn’t directly electrify individual houses, but rather provides power to a business centre. There, the electricity charges lead acid batteries, similar to those used in cars, owned by individual households.

    ​“You charge that battery for…six hours to seven hours. The individual owner of the battery will take it home. Then they can use it [for power] for a number of days, up to four or five days, before returning it back for charging,” Kapolon explained. “At the charging station, householders must pay a little amount, less than a dollar a time, for charging, so it’s very economical and people pay very little for electricity when compared with people living in Nairobi.”
     
    The project benefits 200 households [around 1,000 people] in Mbuiru village.
     
    Micro-hydro boon
     
    Kapolon said perhaps the project’s greatest achievement has been a rise in recent years of educated people emerging from the area.
     
    “Children are using the light to study at night. When we started the first phase of this project in 1999, there were no university graduates from this part of the world. There were not even any high school graduates,” he said. “But we have seen over a number of years now, over ten years, we’ve seen the number of graduates increasing. (Local) people are attributing this to the presence of electricity.”

    ​Computers, such an essential part of modern education and enterprise, are also now fixtures at Mbuiru. “The electricity powers a business center, where people are able to use computers for the first time in their lives. They now use the Internet to check on the latest prices for their agricultural produce, so they know the best prices they can get for their goods at market.”
     
    Kapolon said agribusinesses are now flourishing in the village. “They can produce products that are required in the market. They know exactly what is needed in the market, by using the Internet.”
     
    Electricity has also made it possible to establish grain mills and refrigeration enterprises for local food producers. “Some of these foodstuffs are perishable, so putting up deep freezers and fridges was very beneficial to the people who were producing perishable goods,” said Kapolon.
     
    Farmers now sell more products as food that previously rotted is cold-stored, preserved and taken for sale when the market needs it.
     
    Kapolon added, “We also now have businesses [at Mbuiru] that process oil. Some of the villagers grow oil crops, like sunflowers, and they now use electrical equipment to process the oil.”

    Power has given villagers entry into the tobacco industry and an assortment of other businesses. “They use the electricity for drying of the tobacco. Currently they have opened a number of enterprises – small ones, like welding, battery charging, hair salons and mobile [phone] charging stations. They are attributing these benefits to the coming of electricity.”
     
    Electricity from the micro-hydropower project now also drives pumps that channel water directly to the community, saving the villagers a lot of time and effort. “Getting water was a big challenge previously. They would have to visit the river all the time for water, carrying it manually in jerry cans or buckets,” said Kapolon.
     
    Environmental impact
     
    Despite the advantages of micro-hydropower, it has its critics. They say it harms the environment by slowing the flow of rivers and streams.

    ​But Kapolon argued, “If done properly, it doesn’t reduce the amount of water for people. You only divert the water; you don’t harvest it. You return it to the river without any major reduction to the river’s flow. But obviously if you divert large amounts of water, the impact on people will be bad.”
     
    He acknowledged that some micro-hydro operations kill fish when they get trapped in pipes. But Kapolon added, “We work with streams that are so small that they don’t have any fish in them.”
     
    He maintained that correctly installed micro-hydropower projects are environmentally friendly. “They don’t require big dams to be built, which often have terrible environmental and social effects, when the dams stop river flows or cause flooding,” said Kapolon.

    ​He pointed out that such projects largely eliminate the need for people to damage forests through collecting wood for fires. They no longer need to use “dirty fuels,” such as diesel for milling grain and kerosene for lighting.
     
    Kapolon says the government of Kenya is very impressed with the Tungu Kabiri scheme. “The state wants to emulate its success. They want to roll out similar schemes throughout the country, so we are currently looking at various models to make sure that all of these centers will be sustainable.”
     
    Listen to Taylor report on Micro-hydro power
    Listen to Taylor report on Micro-hydro poweri
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora