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Strathmore Energy Research Centre longlisted for prestigious Ashden Award

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Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) has been longlisted for a prestigious Ashden award. Ashden, a UK- based charity, has been supporting transformative climate solutions for 20 years. More than 800 organisations applied for the 2021 Ashden Awards, and SERC is one of 38 to have made it to the longlisting stage. Award winners will be announced this Autumn – after a rigorous assessment and judging process involving on-the-ground visits and input from sector experts.

 

SERC is an applied technology lab within Strathmore University that has curved a niche in training and capacity building on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our programmes aim to equip our training participants with the required skills to design, install and effectively maintain modern energy systems. SERC is bridging the existing skills gap in the renewable energy sector by providing practical oriented, hands-on training courses across Sub Saharan Africa. To date, more than 3,000 technicians have been trained in our programmes.

 

Our training initiatives have upskilled technicians in various Sub-Saharan countries such as Somalia, Somali land, Kenya, and Tanzania in addition to pioneering solar PV training in countries such as Mali and South Sudan. Our training model which includes Training of Trainer (ToT) sessions conducted in various countries have seen the trained participants institutionalize solar PV training in their institutions.

 

“I have seen a practical solar energy system in Strathmore University that feeds into the grid. That was new for me,” said Eng. Urbanus Melkior, a lecturer at Arusha Technical College Solar Training Center during a training conducted at SERC. “I also learnt that in Kenya there is a solar regulatory body and an approved curriculum and certification for solar workers. Upon our return, we will endeavor to work with our government to encourage more solar use in Tanzania,” added Eng. Urbanus.

 

One notable milestone in the past 12 months is the introduction of an online training platform following the onset of the COVID – 19 pandemic which interrupted physical learning activities. The online platform has enabled SERC to widen its reach for participants who were limited by distance. We also look forward to partnering with other institutions who offer online training in renewable energy to reach more participants at subsidized costs, especially for women in the sector who rarely attend training due to the high costs.

 

“In the year that governments, climate innovators and activists gather at the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, these inspiring climate champions demonstrate the many solutions that can be replicated at scale and speed,” said Ashden’s Chief Executive Officer, Harriet Lamb.

 

Through its awards and ongoing networking and support, Ashden spotlights and supports climate and energy innovators around the world – including businesses, non-profits and public sector organisations delivering proven, ready-to-scale climate solutions.

 

Concluding his remarks on this milestone, Prof. Izael Da Silva (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovation at Strathmore University) noted, “Our training initiatives in the renewable energy sector have narrowed the skill gap both in Kenya and in Sub Saharan Africa. The skills in which our learners gain, enable them to unlock and create opportunities in sustainable development as well as harness the limitless benefits of the renewable energy evolution.”

 

About Strathmore University

 

Strathmore seeks to become a leading outcome-driven entrepreneurial research university by translating our excellence into a major contribution to culture, economic well-being, and quality of life. Strathmore aims at providing all-round quality education in an atmosphere of freedom and responsibility excellence in teaching, research and scholarship, ethical and social development, and service to the society. www.strathmore.edu

 

About Ashden: Ashden’s mission is to accelerate transformative climate solutions and build a more just world. Through awards and programmes, Ashden promotes and supports climate and energy innovators – including businesses, non-profits, and public sector organisations. Find out more at https://www.ashden.org/.

 

Contacts:

 

Name: Anne Njeri Njoroge

Contact: +254704240797

Email: anjoroge@strathmore.edu

 

Ashden

Name: Sue Wheat

Contact: +44 (0)7950 953004

Email:sue.wheat@ashden.org

Electric Appliance Quality in Kenya

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When buying products online, most of us depend on our own knowledge of the product and related specifications, and product reviews in a site’s comment section or on review sites.  In the event of false advertising, we rely on there being return policies though most of the time, electrical appliances perform as expected. This is particularly true for branded products sold through reputable merchants.  However, there is a global industry of poor quality and counterfeit products that do not perform as expected and this can be a problem in the less regulated markets. So, what might a Kenyan consumer find in the market and how can the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme anticipate and enable a quality ecosystem?

 

For instance, if a product is purchased using drop shipping merchants, returning it might not be an available alternative meaning that a consumer might need to “count their losses”. Consumers of electrical appliances in Kenya frequently find themselves in this situation even when the store they purchased the appliance from is accessible and known to them. A general lack of accountability by the traders, due to limited enforcement capacity by regulators, leaves consumers counting losses. Given the limited purchasing power of many consumers in Kenya, what is a small inconvenience to someone who has lucked out of a good drop shipping purchase, might be a huge financial loss and a missed opportunity to own a much-needed appliance.

 

Data and information on the electric appliance quality situation in Kenya are limited and have rarely been investigated beyond counterfeiting, an aspect of quality which fails to encompass the entire issue. To mitigate against and prevent unwanted eventualities where possible, MECS is collaborating with Strathmore University to develop an outlook of the electric cooking quality ecosystem. The program is looking to increase the adoption of electric cooking appliances in Kenya and other Sub-Saharan African countries and quality control is a crucial element of appliance uptake. My team and I are therefore mapping the electric appliance quality ecosystem and identifying issues that impact the sector, including parallels in other countries which can help contextualize the Kenyan situation.

 

The transition to modern energy cooking services is expected to result in substantive adoption of electric cooking appliances in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya. This anticipated adoption in Kenya follows the Last Mile Connectivity Project (LMCP) which increased electricity connectivity in rural areas, where biomass is still used as a cooking fuel. This increase in electrification rate, coupled with MECS activities, is expected to result in the increased adoption of electric cooking appliances, especially electric pressure cookers, in the country.  As adoption increases, it is important to ensure and assure the safety of users to mitigate against injuries or financial losses that might result from poor quality purchases. To keep adoption momentum and protect consumers, manufacturers also need to be aware of quality as it relates to consumers, a similar but distinct theme from quality as it relates to laboratory testing and quality standards compliance.

 

Electric cooking appliances such as electric pressure cookers are relatively new to the Kenyan market, and hence have less developed supply chains with respect to reach into rural communities. Therefore, the team is investigating supply chains of electric appliances (referred to as “appliances” from here onward), to study the probable outlook of the electric cooking quality ecosystem. During the literature review stage, the team classified the appliance supply chain into two categories. There are appliances supplied through Luthuli, Nyamakima and River Road (supply chain A) and those supplied by authorized distributors of “known brand names” (supply chain B). Supply chain A sells unbranded appliances, self-branded appliances and appliances found in supply chain B.  On the other hand, supply chain B sells appliances from “known brand name” manufacturers with authorized distributors who are sometimes allowed to repair on behalf of the manufacturer.

 

In urban areas, only electric shops in locations such as Luthuli, Nyamakima and River Road sell supply chain A (SCA) appliances while the same shops, supermarkets and authorized distributors sell supply chain B (SCB) appliances. In rural areas, SCB appliances are prevalent, and are sold through rural electric shops while SCA appliances are mostly found in supermarkets. This distinction of “who sells what” is important because while quality issues might arise from both SCA and SCB, these issues are more likely to be addressed when appliances are purchased through SCB. This is because SCB sellers tend to have a warranty process in place and service centres where an individual can secure appliance repair services after the warranty period has expired. We remain unsure whether appliances sold through SCA attract similar warranty protections or can be taken to the service centre after the warranty period has expired.

 

A major challenge with SCB appliances is the lack of consumer awareness regarding warranty since some consumers might not be accustomed to the concept of warranty thus might not seek it. Other consumers might not be aware of warranty terms and might throw away receipts upon unboxing, voiding their warranty claim. The second challenge is the lack of availability of service centres, especially for rural consumers who sometimes have to travel to the nearest town to repair their appliance. Even in cases where repair centres are available, some manufacturers set the repair price high to increase the likelihood of the consumer purchasing a new appliance, instead of opting for repair.

 

The third and most relevant challenge for electric cooking, especially pressure cookers is the lack of replacement parts for easily removable parts at the point of sale. For example, the float valve and its silicone cap for electric pressure cookers are removable and very small. The float valve degrades over time thus it is understandable that the manufacturer opted to make it easily removable. However, the only manufacturer’s instructions for consumers who have purchased the appliance worth £140 is to “put the silicone cap and the float valve in a safe place to avoid losing them”. There is no information on what to do in case you lose the silicone cap and/or the float valve, nor on what to do when the sealing ring ages. Such an appliance is considered expensive in Kenya and parts should be made available for replacement in the box at the point of sale.

 

As for SCA, the major challenge is that some shops sell counterfeits of SCB appliances and poor quality (non-counterfeit) appliances sourced from factories selling unbranded products. These factories selling unbranded products are similar to the ones used in the dropshipping trend where appliances can be branded on request by the seller or bought without a label.  Similar to SCB appliances, counterfeit and poor quality SCA appliances have to produce a certificate of conformance at the port of entry thus there is a need to find out where lapses occur, enabling the entry into the country. Of note is that our project focuses on quality rather than counterfeiting since there are some non-counterfeits products of poor quality, an issue that is of great concern for electric cooking appliances.  The link between counterfeits and quality has also been explored extensively by manufacturers in Kenya.

 

Parallels to both systems can be found in ecommerce where assuring the quality and safety of appliances has become challenging for regulators given the scale of imports. For most of the sites, consumers source of information through recommendations by other users (social reviews) and by reading reviews on the ecommerce sites and/or consumer review sites. Most Kenyan consumers only depend on social reviews and there is a lack of reliable review sites that are accessible to majority of Kenyans, though it is important to note that site reviews can be corrupted. Therefore, there are still more questions to be answered with respect to the operations of SCA and SCB, including how consumers get information on appliances to purchase. The next phase of the project will seek to explore consumer dynamics and other issues such as importation gaps that enable the entry of poor-quality goods.

 

This project is funded by the Modern Energy Cooking Services is led by Ms Anne Wacera Wambugu.

 

The article was written by  Ms Anne Wacera Wambugu. You can contact us at serc@strathmore.edu.

 

This article was first published on Modern Energy Cooking Services website.

Biomedical engineers trained in Tier 2 level systems

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This week marks the end of cohort two training for biomedical engineers from Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisumu, Samburu, Siaya and Tana River. The biomedical engineers learned how to design, size, install, and maintain solar photovoltaic systems. They also attended classes on workplace issues revolving around design thinking, business communication skills, mental health, and professional documentation. The training, which spans four cohorts, aims to provide a sustainable solution to hospitals in the most vulnerable counties, and to support ongoing Covid-19 efforts in the healthcare sector.

 

Electricity plays a critical role in the delivery of patient services including vaccination, which requires refrigeration. In the absence of electricity, these services grind to a halt and can lead to an increased risk of patient death. Unreliable electricity also slows down the modernization of healthcare services thus adversely affecting vulnerable populations in rural areas. Frequent down-times reduce equipment dependability and lack of equipment disincentivizes medical professionals from working in rural areas.

 

“In the dispensaries, we are faced with challenges of paying electricity bills. The allocated amount sometimes doubles, and this then becomes a challenge. I have seen that the use of solar energy will help us a lot in the sub-county,” says Roslyn Chepkemoi, Biomedical Engineer, Bomet Central sub-county. Reliable power remains a critical issue in sub-Saharan Africa as shown by a systematic review done in 2013 in 14 countries which found that only 34 percent of grid-connected hospitals had reliable electricity. Further, around 41 percent of healthcare facilities do not have access to electricity and 70 percent of medical devices in Africa cannot be used due to lack of good and stable quality of power. Taking this into account, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic calls for a renewed focus on electrification of rural healthcare facilities with no grid connection and the provision of better backup to those without reliable electricity. Both can be achieved using off-grid technologies such as solar photovoltaic systems.

 

Properly installed, operated, and maintained solar photovoltaic systems with batteries are reliable and cost-competitive compared to alternatives such as fuel gen-sets when properly installed, operated, and maintained. When financed upfront, they require a high initial capital expenditure which can be unattainable for health-care facilities. However, the availability of financing is improving, and knowledgeable individuals can assist hospitals assess the options they have. These are some of the issues covered in the training.

 

“In addition, I learnt that the user should be empowered on how to use the system. This will assist the user to avoid system overload. Further, I also realized that the use of LEDs and CFLs instead of normal bulbs is more efficient in the long run.” added Roselyn.

 

The project runs from June 2020 to January 2022 but the courses, which began in late November 2020, will run until April 2021, with the extra time being used for follow-ups and impact assessment. By the end of the course, Strathmore Energy Research Center will have trained 60 biomedical engineers from 30 counties. These are: Busia, TransNzoia, Vihiga, Kericho, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Bungoma, Taita Taveta, Nyamira, Kwale, Baringo, West Pokot, Tharaka Nithi, Narok, Nyandarua, Migori, Homa Bay, Laikipia, Kilifi, Kajiado, Marsabit, Kitui, Murang’a, Tana River, Isiolo, Lamu, Kirinyaga, Samburu, Makueni and Kakamega.

 

This project is funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering and is led by Ms Anne Wacera Wambugu. The article was written by Ms Anne Njeri Njoroge, the Communications Officer at Strathmore Energy Research Centre. You can contact us at serc@strathmore.edu.