Plans are at an advanced stage by the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC), to connect solar power to Mkwiro and Wasini remote islands in Kwale County at a cost of Sh118 million.
The islands have never had electricity and the solar energy is hoped to transform the fortunes of the inhabitants that were hitherto dependent on diesel generators and kerosine lamps.
It’s hoped the installation of the microgrid provides a cost-saving alternative to diesel, and the island’s services such as health centres, schools and police stations don’t have to worry about lack of electricity.
Tourism and fishing are the leading economic drivers of the remote islands near the border with Tanzania and are on the climate change frontline with sea level rise a major threat to the island’s lives.
The island dwellers, most of them fisherfolks, have for long been demanding a regular source of power for cold storage facilities.
RERECs General Manager (GM) Business Development and Strategy, David Gitonga, say the solar projects are funded by the World Bank.
The REREC official said the solar energy for the twin remote islands blessed with plentiful sunshine would be on the route from fossil to renewable energy.
The GM who was accompanied by the Corporation’s Coast Regional Manager, Jackbed Nyangu, disclosed this when he paid a courtesy call on Kwale Governor, Fatuma Achani.
Gitonga says the islands will soon bid goodbye to polluting fossil fuels, as they would be completely powered by solar energy.
He said the project that is scheduled to be completed by December this year will connect over 400 households to solar-powered electricity for the first time.
“By December the islands would be basking in the benefits of going off-grid and would be entirely self-sufficient with solar power bringing more electricity and reliability,” he said, adding that off-the-grid remote islands are ideally suited to harnessing solar power.
Gitonga says the move to connect the islands to solar power is in line with REREC’s strategic objectives of introducing renewable energy in off the grid areas in an effort to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce operating costs.
He said in the 2021-2022 Financial Year, REREC implemented 15 diverse projects running on solar energy in far flung areas of Kwale where over 750 rural households benefited.
He noted clean and renewable energy offers the country the shortest route to lighting off-grid areas that have for long relied on expensive diesel powered generators to produce electricity.
On her part, Achani said it would be a ‘historic moment’ as the two islands and surrounding fishing villages will ‘finally emerge into the light’.
The Governor handed over title deeds to the REREC officials signaling commencement of the project in the two islands.
She said the new microgrid brings more than electricity to the islands by bringing reliability and consistency to the livelihoods of local business owners and residents on the islands.
Achani said for the first time since independence the solar power projects will transform the lives of the island inhabitants.
“Power supply will improve livelihoods and boost our fishing and tourism sectors,” she said, adding that the islands are in a prime location to harness the sun’s energy.
She said the devolved unit will scale-up its collaboration with REREC as it seeks to set up similar renewable energy projects for irrigated farming.
Island dwellers interviewed by KNA say feverish excitement has greeted the forthcoming transition from fossil to renewable energy.
Athman Shauri, who comes from a long line of fishermen in Wasini, says most islanders’ fish for a living, and in the absence of electricity, they smoke the fish and try to sell it quickly – often at throwaway prices, but with enough solar power, they could refrigerate their catch.
Shauri says with the solar power projects the social and economic life of the island’s residents could develop much faster.
Mbwana Famau another island dweller in Mkwiro, said with the planned renewable energy solar power systems, the inhabitants of the islands will soon have electricity 24 hours a day.
“The island dwellers previously relied on diesel generators to secure electrical power and that was only for a few hours a day,” he said, adding that many were accustomed to the daily challenges of living on a remote island without power supply.
He said the inhabitants are elated that they will soon enjoy electricity just like those living in big towns.
The Fisherman noted solar power and battery storage-enabled microgrids eradicate the serious environmental impacts such as diesel delivery boats capsizing on the waters.
By Hussein Abdullahi