Kenya off-grid user research 2019


Last month, I went on a useful research expedition with an aim of reviewing our rural villages that are both literally and metaphorically off the beaten track. We have an idea that there’s now huge potential due to plunging prices for off-grid electrification programs and projects based on Photovoltaic (PV) systems, including Solar Pico Systems (SPS) and Solar Home Systems (SHS). My goal was to determine what the users feel are their current problems and concerns and see if that fits with the advocated solutions, if there are any gaps and how best to approach it.

I arranged several meetings in several villages and was able to come up with a few composite personas which tunaamini will always keep close to our hearts. These personas may be composite, for privacy and efficacy reasons but please trust me the quotes are verbatim. The lives are real.

Emelia – a kerosene lamp user

The solutions for Emelia are obvious, a low-cost solar-powered lamp that can replace her kerosene scrounging and expenditure would have a significant impact on her day, her life, her outlook. Gone would be her daily stress and worry for finding kerosene. My research led me to believe they spend about $70-120 a year on kerosene per homestead. Its a shame that this situation hasn’t been addressed sooner en masse, but at least we have an opportunity now. The findings were in the parameters of our main proposed solution for these people, a $25 unit that provides plenty of light and little more… . That said, the solution could be an even more basic solar lamp, and we’ve been searching around for this kerosene-transformation lamp and believe we can get a ‘factory-exit’ price of around $2.50 per unit. This figure is shocking in a few respects:


  1. At $2.50 it’s 10 times cheaper than the initial unit we were looking at
  2. It’s pays for itself within a two or three weeks

If you really want to be surprised (or possibly saddened) units with the 4 lights and phone-charging functionality are being sold into the villages by many companies right now, with repayment terms lasting 18 months to 2 years. Still a reasonable investment compared to traditional returns that would expect maybe 8 years of use to break-even. But at over $200, these units (which have the same end-user functionality as our $25 believe it or not) are 100 times more expensive than the simple lamp that would stop the kerosene use

Kerosene swap solar lamp
What is the minimum needed to swap out a kerosene lamp?

For an energy system to be sustainable, it needs to be socially accepted, which implies the active participation and engagement of the community aimed at enhancing the accountability of the project. Compared to large-scale solutions, small-scal energy approaches may have a higher social acceptance. However, a lack of communication concerning the applications and limitations of off-grid PV systems can lead to false expectations and negative perceptions, thus constraining their social acceptance. Prior experiences from the off grid projects I have undertaken show that in order to avoid social issues (envy, stealing, etc.), participation needs to include all interest groups of the community.

Please get in touch with us if you feel you can help out in any way.
Thanks, Samwel