At least 1.3 billion people lack access to energy worldwide. This is a significant obstacle to social and economic development. In Kenya, only 23% of the population have access to electricity, with this problem being far more acute in rural communities.
In 2010, the United Nation’s Sustainability Energy for All initiative was launched. Central to this initiative is the removal of Africa’s dependency on kerosene – an expensive and dangerous fuel that is attributed to 600,000 deaths per year in the continent.
The growth of Kenya’s solar market is a step in the right direction to reducing its dependency on ‘unclean’ sources of energy, such as kerosene. However, many solar products are inaccessible and too expensive for the rural poor. Many families also don’t see the need for solar, when fuelwood and kerosene are readily available.
Introducing Solar Kiosk
Solar Kiosk operates energy centres in rural villages across Africa which act as a retail platform for solar products and services. The untested business model aims to be the “number one last mile clean energy retailer in Africa”, hoping to make significant progress to SDG 7: access to affordable and clean energy.
For the last month I have been in Nairobi carrying out research with Solar Kiosk and Energy4Impact, an NGO that supports businesses to provide energy access to off-grid communities. My research aims to uncover the impact of solar products and services in rural communities by listening to the customers themselves. These results will enable me to recommend improvements to Solar Kiosk’s business model to further reduce the use of ‘unclean’ energy.
Two weeks ago, I visited one of Solar Kiosk’s stalls in a rural village called Sogoo. It was truly humbling to meet such enthusiastic individuals, many of whom have set up businesses as a result of the solar products bought from the kiosk. A week later, I also conducted telephone interviews with Sogoo’s solar product customers using Acumen’s ‘lean data’ approach: a method of collecting socio-economic impact data through lean experimentation that utilises low-cost technologies. Although I was able to capture a lot more information in my face-to-face interviews through observations as well as questions, the telephone calls provided useful supplementary information.
Through the sale of simple solar lanterns that only cost £4, the village has reduced its dependency on kerosene significantly. One customer even claimed that kerosene had “disappeared” since the arrival of the kiosk 7 months ago. These high quality lanterns provide brighter light for children to study, women to cook safely and locals to run their businesses later into the evening. Moreover, the money saved from using kerosene can be spent on vital necessities.
Yet Solar Kiosk is far more than just a solar product distributor. This multi-faceted business is also working towards other SDG’s by refrigerating medication, purifying water and selling efficient cook stoves and staple food. Once more, Solar Kiosk is a critical player in achieving SDG 5, gender equality. Women are viewed as catalysts in the solar energy market, operating 74% of their kiosks in Kenya.
The Next Steps
Next week I will visit two more kiosks to speak to more customers, before returning to Edinburgh to write my dissertation.
My results so far have suggested that Solar Kiosk is an innovative business model that is yet to reach its full potential. It has the capacity to sell far more solar products and raise greater awareness of climate change and the dangers of traditional sources of energy.
I hope that my research will provide useful insights into the impact of their products and services, providing vital information needed to reduce rural Kenya’s dependency on unsustainable, unclean and costly sources of energy.