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Solar power supply project brings remote Kwale islands out of the dark

Feverish excitement and anticipation greeted the inauguration of a Sh 350 million off grid solar power project by the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC) in Mkwiro and Wasini remote islands in Kwale County.

The twin 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 kerosene lamps.

Frenzied excitement greeted the commissioning of the solar power plant as the remote islands blessed with plentiful sunshine said goodbye to polluting fossil fuels as they are now completely powered by solar energy.

Mkwiro and Wasini islands are among Kwale’s many remote and enchanting islands disconnected from the national electricity grid compelling its inhabitants to seek alternative ways of generating power.

The islands are a tropical haven with mangrove forests and green coral reefs as lush green vegetation and for discerning tourists these exclusive pristine sandy islands are ‘paradise on earth’.

It’s hoped the installation of the micro grid provides a cost-saving alternative to diesel, and the island’s services such as health centres, administrative centres and schools don’t have to worry about lack of electricity.

Tourism and fishing are the leading economic activities of the remote islands and are on the climate change frontline with sea level rise a major threat to the island’s existence.

The solar powered energy project will benefit households and businesses within the islands hence enable them to tap into the lucrative tourist investments and leisure industry.

The mini-grid has a solar plant capacity of 737 kilowatts per hour which will be distributed via an 11.02 Kilometer power distribution line network and 3 transformers and includes a 70kVA standby diesel powered generator.

It features 1,820 solar panels and 247 lead-acid batteries with a total capacity of 2276kWh benefiting 600 homes.

The iconic power funded by the World Bank in collaboration with the county government was recently launched by President William Ruto.

President Ruto thanked the World Bank and other development partners for partnering with the Kwale county government and REREC in lighting up the remote and far-flung islands that can only be reached by boats.

Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir says the solar power project is part of the Kenya Electricity Modernisation Project (KEMP), which seeks to expand electricity access to underserved communities particularly those in off-grid areas.

CS Chirchir says the government will be focusing on wind and solar energy to off-grid customers across the country as it seeks to promote sustainable energy access to all.

He says 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.

The Energy CS says the solar power supply will improve livelihoods and boost the fishing and tourism sectors in the coastal county of Kwale.

He says the solar power plant will be supplied with solar panels, batteries and standby generators so that the bright promise of the solar power plant does not dim.

“With the solar power project the islands will no longer grapple with soaring electricity costs and reliability issues,” he said.

He says REREC will continue to work with development partners to develop and implement power solutions for rural, remote and island communities who lack access to electricity.

The CS says despite difficulties REREC is making steady progress in its off grid electrification efforts and ensuring new customers gained access to power for the first time.

The minister said most solar power plants, which use photovoltaic technology, capture energy through the solar panels, converting the sun’s light straight to electricity adding that solar power is the future.

He says solar energy is powering development on a massive scale in many parts of the world and Kenya will not be exceptional.

He says the new solar powered project will go a long way in providing a critical boost towards reducing carbon emissions and providing clean energy besides increasing access to electricity in the country in an effort to achieve universal access to energy.

A general view of the solar-powered project which uses photovoltaic technology in Wasini island of Kwale ushering in a new era for solar power.

CS Chirchir says the move from diesel powered generators to solar power energy will in the long run contribute to reducing average electricity generation costs and carbon emissions.

Kwale Governor Fatuma Achani says the twin island dwellers, most of them fishermen, have for long been demanding a regular source of power for cold storage facilities.

Governor Achani says the solar mini grid project will provide low-cost electricity to the island dwellers and also help to fast track development in the islands that majorly depends on fishing and tourism sectors.

“We are fully committed to continue partnering with the national government in development projects geared to improving and accelerating the economic growth of our county,” she said.

Achani says it is ‘a historic moment’ as the two islands and surrounding fishing villages finally emerged into the light.

She says the solar power project will provide electricity to every home on the twin islands besides powering streetlights.

The coastal county boss says the new solar micro grid brings more than electricity to the islands by bringing reliability and consistency to the livelihoods of local business owners and residents on the islands.

“The solar powered project would ensure homes and business premises get electricity, roads get street lights and markets lit up at night,” she said.

Governor Achani says many remote islands and villages in the coastal region have lagged behind in terms of development due to a lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity.

She says the new development is expected to spur investment in the hospitality sector where industry players have long complained about the lack of reliable power supply in the idyllic islands.

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 mega solar power project the social and economic life of the island’s residents would develop at an unprecedented pace.

“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 steady power supply.

He said the inhabitants are elated that they have started enjoying low cost electricity just like those living in urban centres.

The fisherman noted that solar power and battery storage-enabled micro grids eradicate the serious environmental impacts such as diesel delivery boats capsizing on the waters.

Fatma Bakari, a local women leader, says only a few families on the islands had personal solar lights and that the majority of the island dwellers used candles and lanterns during nighttime.

By Hussein Abdullahi

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