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Making Solar Work

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Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) and MDF Training and Consulting are implementing a capacity-building project under the Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) which is supported by Nuffic. The project, dubbed Making Solar Work, involves implementing a Tailor-Made Training that aims to build the capacity of the Tanzania Renewable Energy Association (TAREA) and the Arusha Technical College Solar Training Centre (ATCSTC) staff.


The first phase began on 1st December 2020 with a three-day field study visit at SERC. During this time, the team had a benchmarking session on the legal and regulatory framework in the energy sector, highlighting training accreditation and licensing of solar technicians and engineers. Later, the participants discussed the solar PV course curricula, training transcripts and training kits used at SERC giving a high-level review of training off-grid solar systems, grid-tie systems, hybrid solar systems and solar water pumping systems.


“I have seen a practical solar energy system in Strathmore University that feeds into the grid. That was new for me. 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” Eng. Urbanus Melkior, a lecturer at ASTSC since 2011.


The five will then share their knowledge with fifteen technical trainers and facilitators from vocational training colleges in Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Massai lands, and Moshi.


“I have received a training manual that will help as a reference point when I return to Tanzania. I have found that the solar courses here are more advanced and will help me upgrade my existing skills,” said Elvitha Issack, Trainer at TAREA, Solar Department


All our training sessions are hands-on and allow every participant a chance to feel and touch the sample solar equipment used for training. Our labs provide a 14kWp PV/genset/storage demonstrational hybrid system which can be operated in battery storage or fuel saver configuration.


Would you like to learn more on Solar PV courses? Click this link to learn more.


This article was written by Thomas Bundi and Anne Njeri Njoroge.

EPRA regulations are good but must make solar power safe for all

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There has been a raging debate about the draft Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations 2020 proposed by Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority which seek to streamline the manufacture, importation, installation and maintenance of solar components and systems.


On the outset, it has been understood that these regulations are meant to make consumers stick to the expensive and unreliable national power grid.


As a consumer, I can understand why we are on the edge – we have all had unpleasant encounters with Kenya Power with its high bills and unreliable power supply.


However, as a professional in the sector, I’d like to point out that the claims that the draft regulations aimed at strangling the sector are founded on sensationalism and are as misleading as the narrative that using solar power is expensive.


The 2020 draft regulations are meant to update the 2012 regulations, a process that started in 2018. Simply put, these regulations have been in existence since 2012 and must be updated given the current state of the industry.


How do I know about the current state? Well, the things that concern you as you seek to purchase and install solar equipment, are of interest to me and my research partner. In 2019, we decided to find out what those things are, so we travelled to my home county of Trans Nzoia to see for ourselves.


In Kitale, we easily found and bought a counterfeit solar power kit at Sh500 after bargaining from Sh800. Later, we bought an original one at Sh700 from elsewhere.


For three weeks, we talked to women groups, church groups, bodaboda riders and dairy farmers, and showed them the counterfeit and the original.


Few could tell the difference meaning most of them wouldn’t purchase the right product even if they were placed next to each other.


The reality is that most of these products aren’t sold next to each other. Original solar kits are mostly found in formal shops in towns like Kitale while counterfeits are sold in roadside stalls and electrical shops in rural areas and are thus, easily accessible.


In our case, we called the company’s offices in Nairobi to track down the original product. Sadly and as we found out, some people, such as civil servants in the energy sector, who should know the difference, had no idea too. So, many people buy the counterfeit thinking that they have the original product.


We also found households that had failed solar kits which lasted for less than four months, instead of the expected two years. Besides the financial losses, Kenya’s e-waste collection infrastructure is almost non-existent outside Nairobi thus e-waste from failed products is disposed of in pit latrines, in farms or used as toys by children.


This is concerning because electronics have hazardous metals with known and unknown health repercussions.


To curb this ever-growing menace, the draft EPRA regulations mandate compliance to Kenyan solar standards developed by KEBS and set fines to deter non-compliance.


Besides the solar kits I’ve talked about, the Kenyan household solar market also has component-based solar (CBS). Solar kits are bought attached to their own loads (such as bulbs and TVs) and sometimes have a phone’s charging port. You can’t plug your existing loads into kits and shouldn’t try. For this reason, some people opt for CBS, where the components (solar panel, batteries, charge controller, inverter, cables), are “sized” to fit their loads.


I have heard stories of, and seen CBS installations with car batteries in place of solar batteries and installations without charge controllers, which led to fires.


The “sizing” of household CBS systems involves relatively simple arithmetic but requires practice, hence the mandated completion certificates in the draft regulations, which act as proof of practice. Solar training teaches this arithmetic, alongside electrical safety, mounting of the solar panel on the roof and other considerations that should be made before and after an installation.


In the draft regulations, household solar falls under Class SPW1 (minimum KCPE) and SPW2 (minimum KCSE) and the regulations allow an individual to upgrade from one class to the other. Therefore, a person with a KCPE certificate can start from SPW1 where they can install a CBS similar in size to a large solar kit and, move up the classes as they accrue experience and install larger systems.


I don’t agree with everything in the draft regulations. For example, professional indemnity requirements should be explained to us before being adopted as a requirement.


In a conversation unrelated to the regulations, Kenyan banks noted that Kenyan insurance companies are notorious for not honouring legitimate claims hence insurance can’t be used to de-risk the renewable energy sector.


Therefore, transparency is needed as to who will be offering the cover, at what cost, if they’ll honour claims and the consequences they’ll face if legitimate claims aren’t honoured.


Outside the regulations, there are concerns about the enforcement capacity of KEBS and EPRA. Both organisations seem to have a relatively small number of engineers compared to what’s needed.


Kenya also has limited laboratory infrastructure compared to what’s needed for effective market surveillance, something that will derail the regulations if not resolved.


There’s also a need to ensure the availability of training centres, especially in rural communities, and not just in major cities and towns.


In terms of implementation, the regulations should be introduced in a phased manner in consultation with all stakeholders.


A 2-3 year phase-out of the old regulations is advised, given that the sector is already grappling with the shocks of Covid-19 and the VAT on the sector.


This article was written by Anne Wacera and was first published in the Standard.


The writer is an electrical engineer and quality and standards expert on solar and electrical appliances.


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The Solar Power for Houses and Business Policy Advisory Committee Convene a Stakeholder Workshop

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SPHB Policy Advisory Committee was convened by the National Commission for Science, Technology, and Innovation (NACOSTI) in collaboration with Strathmore University, the University of Nairobi (Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation and Condensed Matter Research Group), KIRDI, NuPEA and KenGen. The advisory committee chaired by Strathmore University through SERC is aimed at fulfilling three main objectives:

  • Explore ways of encouraging households to embrace solar for own use and to sell excess to government through net metering policy.
  • Explore ways of utilizing as much local content and materials as possible in execution of the solar projects.
  • Explore ways of empowering small businesses and jua kali sector to plug in offering simple solutions and consuming the same.

In this regard, the Advisory committee funded by National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa and the Newton Fund through the British Council through GENS project hosted the Energy Policy and Innovation in Kenya workshop in which thirty participants both locally and internationally took part on 24th November, 2020. This workshop was to allow various stakeholders in the government, industry, and academia to discuss pathways towards a strategic, market-focused, user-oriented policy that will fast track the adoption of solar energy by households and businesses in Kenya.


The key objectives of the workshop were to present findings from the benchmarking exercise; present the framework for stakeholder consultation in the Solar PV industry in Kenya; discuss challenges that hamper the growth of the Solar PV market for households and business in Kenya; and discuss the incentives and support systems that would promote innovation and the uptake of Solar PV technologies at the household, business, county, and national levels.


During the consultative sessions, participants were divided into five groups to discuss the questionnaire for different groups: houses, business (SMEs), learning institutions and independent research organizations, policy makers from the government and the private sector, and mini grid developers and financial institutions. Some of the feedback during this session included: how to understand the pricing model of solar material. One group suggested using mystery shopping to collect information as the use of solar energy is a business for most and therefore getting information on pricing can be difficult. Additionally, another group suggested that the questionnaire should be customized for different companies within the supply chain to have a complete overview of the market.


“There is a high penetration in the country by company names but there are only a few big multinational companies that dominate the market.” said one participant “which is where I would like to end”. Where in the supply chain do you see yourself participating in the journey to renewable energy at the house-hold, business, county and national level?


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This article was compiled by Anne Njeri Njoroge.


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Sustainable Energy for Executives- Financing the Transition

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Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) held a breakfast session on Financing the Transition for Sustainable Energy for corporate executives on 11th September 2019 at the University. The breakfast session brought together professionals financing renewable energy projects from the banking, investment and development sector. This is in line with SERC’s plan to launch a series of executive courses aimed at senior level management. The objective of the session was to gather input on the training curriculum and discuss the areas that need to be incorporated within the existing Sustainable Energy for Executives with a focus on financiers course content.


The breakfast session was inaugurated by Prof Izael Da Silva who is the DVC for Research and Innovation at the University. He rightly echoed the need for financiers to play a role financing the Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) sector seeing that the university was a beneficiary of the Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) loan through Sunref. As a result, Strathmore University installed a 600kW solar PV system which meets the university’s internal energy demand, and during the weekend when the students are off campus the excess is imported to the grid through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).


The workshop proceeded with an introduction to Energy Access by Ms. Sarah Odera, Director of the Strathmore Energy Research Centre. “Energy Access efforts are shifting from centralized systems to decentralized systems with the focus being on underserved regions of the country”, Ms. Odera emphasized as she pointed out the need for financiers to invest in DRE technologies to accelerate the development process.


“The main challenge in funding DRE is the mismatch of priorities between the funders and the DRE companies” according to African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Principal Regional Officer, Dr. Somorin Olufunso. As a result, AfDB trains both DRE companies and local commercial banks how to come up with winning proposals and how what to look at when funding DREs respectively. He further pointed out that they are willing to partner with the University to enhance the standard learning system within the DRE sector.


The other speakers in the workshop who included Mr. Maarteen Kleijn, Senior Officer- focusing on off-grid Solar in Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) and Mr. Humphrey Wireko, who is a senior associate at Cross Boundary both presented on the different challenges they face in the course of their operations and the different financial models they have adopted so as to fund the DRE sector sustainably. All the stakeholders agreed that the DRE sector poses a lucrative opportunity for investment and that a structured learning system would be beneficial in enabling the decision makers to make timely investment and financing decisions.


The stakeholders then gave tangible feedback on the course outline which was presented by Mr. Geoffrey Ronoh, who is a research fellow in the University. The course would touch on areas such as knowledge in conducting technical due diligence in energy projects, them nuances specific in the energy sector to obtain an understanding of consumer profiles, distributed renewable energy companies and the regulatory environment. Some of the key feedback included the need to ensure that the course is practical and engaging so as to address the day to day challenges that the financiers face.


The workshop was successfully concluded with an agreement to launch the course in October 2019.



This article was written by Hope Njoroge

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Transforming Energy Access- Learning and Partnerships (TEA-LP) Workshop

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Transforming Energy Access- Learning and Partnerships (TEA-LP) Workshop was held at Strathmore University Business School from 6th to 8th August 2019. Strathmore University was amongst 8 Sub-Saharan Universities to receive funding from Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DfID) for the development of new curricula centred on the theme of sustainable energy access for all, and was part of the  Transforming Energy Access (TEA) project coordinated by Carbon Trust through University of Cape Town (UCT). The multifaceted attendance of academics and professionals lent their expertise towards formulating a post-graduate curriculum that will furnish the African energy sector with useful knowledge and skills necessary to realise the promise of low-cost, high value and eco-friendly energy access across Africa and the globe.       

The event marked the second stage of the pedagogical effort and the activities included interactive  presentations and elaborate brainstorming sessions that put into focus the energy access landscape and highlighted the unaddressed snarls in the energy eco-system. Addressing energy concerns has increasingly become an anchor point upon which a viable sustainability consciousness can be achieved. In order to ensure availability of affordable and clean energy as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), global efforts similar to the TEA-LP will promote energy access irrespective of spatial-temporal and socio-economic constraints that have been chronic irritants on the energy access frontier. 43% of Sub-Saharan Africa has access to energy, which is almost half of the global average which stands at 87%. By fortifying the supply of knowledge and skills in the energy sector with an effective and updated curriculum that addresses the gaps in the current energy access structure is a significant step in the direction of an energy efficient planet.

“Energy is not just a resource; it also involves how the people interact with it.” This significant statement made during a presentation by Jon Cloke, Network Manager at LCDEN, underpins the importance of socio-cultural contextualisation of energy as a means of achieving true change that pervades society and improves standards of living for all.

To provide the needed context offered by a holistic perspective, each university team was comprised of a multidiscipline outfit of academics and professionals who supplied the exercise with complementary knowledge and the experience needed to design an effective and robust teaching curriculum. Such a multidisciplinary approach also further incorporates the amalgamation of both hard and soft skills needed to create a socially sensitive and economically viable energy access system that can unlock Africa’s immense potential.

The outcome of the overall process will eventually be actualised by the anticipated postgraduate course which will bring forth the desired energy revolution. Despite the weighty issues that were discussed, the workshop also served as a platform for the attendees to learn more about other countries and also to extend their network for deeper support.


The article was written by Neville Ramogo Otema.

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Strathmore University hosts FEWA Collaboration Network Workshop

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Strathmore University hosted a half-day workshop to launch the FEWA Collaboration Network and to explore what other organizations are undertaking in the food-energy-water nexus to identify research gaps and opportunities that will foster further collaborations among the engaged institutions.

Novel irrigation methods in arid and semi-arid regions

 The University, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh through grant funds under the Newton Institutional Links Program funded by the British Council have been implementing a research project for the past one year titled “Enhanced Food Security and Afforestation through Novel Approaches to Irrigation”.  The project had the objectives of investigating the novel methods for irrigation in the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, developing a prototype of a solar thermal fresh water generator that can be used to desalinate brackish water and identifying failure causes of existing reverse osmosis desalination systems in the country. FEWA Collaboration Network was formed to facilitate sustainability of future research collaborations between the two research institutions to address all research works in food, energy and water nexus.

In attendance at the workshop were a team of researchers: Sarah Odera, Director, Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC), Dr. Dimitri Mignard representing the University of Edinburgh, and Dr. Michael Wawire and Dr. Saoke Churchill, both from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Techonology (JKUAT).  Other key industry practitioners in the sector from both private sector and non-governmental organizations included representatives from Riara University, Kenya Water Institute (KEWI), and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), EED Advisory ltd, Practional Action Kenya, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Kenya and Shabaha Engineering ltd among others.

Need for baseline research

Part of the workshop activities facilitated discussions with the aim of identifying the network themes and future activities, a process that was led by Dr. Dimitri and Sarah Odera.  The discussions revolved around awareness, technology adoption and affordability, sustainable harvesting of biomass as well as proper utilization of agricultural and animal wastes to provide alternatives sources of energy. The participants wholly agreed that there is a need for baseline research to acquire reliable data on existing consumer awareness, reliability of distribution channels of the different technologies in the sector, energy needs of the small-scale farmers, and the major challenges being encountered.

Field survey

In efforts to address these challenges and fill the current research gaps, participants agreed to collaborate in sharing all relevant publications, articles and research papers that would provide information on the areas discussed during the workshop. Participants outlined the need for a field survey in various parts of the country to get a clear picture of issues affecting these communities. This would eventually lead to a conclusive report and recommendations for sustainable approaches to solve the issues in the food, energy and water nexus. “I am very grateful to have experts share their personal experiences and knowledge in food, energy and water nexus. They have good ideas which we can use to move forward,” said Dr. Mignard, University of Edinburgh.


This article was written by:  Patrick Mwanzia Kioko.


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Strathmore University Team wins Initiate! Impact Challenge

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The team representing Strathmore University won the Initiate! Impact Challenge during this year’s African Utility week in Cape Town, South Africa. Alex Osunga, Fredrick Amariati, Ignatius Maranga and Raymond Kiyegga emerged victorious after their innovation, The Kijiji project, was selected as the best from a pool of four participating universities: Stellenbosch UniversityUniversity of Cape Town, the University of Witwatersrand and Strathmore University.


The challenge was sponsored by Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency, Rosatom. The team took home R20, 000 which they would like to invest in their winning project, the Kijiji Project.


Solar powered container


The project provides a solution to electricity access in rural areas and is centred on a solar powered container. The container is a hub that acts as a power source, and an attraction point for people. It also has a health clinic, a knowledge hub and provisions for business. It is a 40ft container with 25kW capacity solar panels and 6000AH battery storage. This supplies electricity to the clinic, knowledge hub and three shops (with a capacity of cooling and having a maize mill).


“Through the container, people will see and understand the benefits of electricity. This will lead them to want electricity in their homes. More containers can be added with demand, and some energy can be used to charge batteries for home use. Solar-Powered bikes will deliver these batteries to homes. Like an Uber for Energy,” said Ignatius Maranga.


Open Africa Power Alumni


The team found it a challenging yet wonderful learning experience. They emphasised the importance of teamwork, simplicity and never giving up. Ignatius Maranga (also a member of Engineering for Change) and Fredrick Amariati are Open Africa Power 2018 alumni. Alex Osunga is a former president of the Strathmore University Environment Club.


“Our solution was urbanising rural areas. So we set up a centre where people can do business and then the community can be empowered both by those running the business and their customers,” said the team as they explained their solution and the role of their innovation.


This article was written by Christine Mukasa

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Strathmore University hosts The Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme

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The Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC), in partnership with the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Loughborough University and UK Aid, hosted the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme – East Africa – launch at Strathmore University. Among the key speakers at the event were Professor Tom Ogada from Ministry of Energy and Professor Ed Brown from Loughborough University.

Launch of eCookBook

The aim of the MECS East Africa launch was to bring together key regional stakeholders to explore the unique opportunities and challenges in each national context, the crossover space between the electrification and clean cooking spheres and how MECS ties into what is already happening in the region. During the event, the eCookBook by Jon Leary and Jacob Fodio Todd was launched. Focusing on one of the most energy intensive popular food groups, beans and cereals, the eCookBook seeks to explore the relationship between energy use and cooking. This is to inform cooks on how best to take advantage of new opportunities such as modern energy efficient cooking appliances. The book was produced in Nairobi.

Despite increased electricity access, people still cook with biomass. Weak grids, affordability of electricity, tradition, perceptions and lack of suitable cooking appliances have hindered scaling up the use of electricity or gas for clean cooking. However, renewable energy generation has increased access to affordable and reliable electricity, and technological advancements have enabled production of appliances that are more energy-efficient but still cook foods to their right taste. This has opened new windows of opportunity.

Electric cooking

“What was most important about this workshop was that it showed that electric cooking is a viable cooking option. We at SERC are excited about the opportunities that electric cooking has in store for the continent, especially on the health front,” said Anne Wacera Wambugu, the quality manager at SERC and an electrical appliances and Renewable energy systems expert.

MECS is a UK Aid funded research and innovation programme designed to facilitate a transition away from biomass to modern cooking solutions, such as electricity and LPG. The programme is led by Loughborough University, UK, drawing in global partnerships, including the World Bank’s ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program) and CCA (Clean Cooking Alliance, formerly GACC). Other partners at the launch included: Clasp, Energy Saving Trust and Efficiency for Access.


The article was compiled by Christine Mukasa.


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