Eliminating ‘blight of Kerosene’ of rural households

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Simon Kiragu is one of the propagators of renewable energy in Kenya. Since 2013, he has been working hard to push for the use of clean energy among women and poor households locally and at times abroad.

His work as the programme officer at wPOWER, a donor-funded project under the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at University of Nairobi, has exposed him to challenges faced by 620miliion people in Sub-Saharan Africa that lack access to power.

In this group are women who have to walk tens of kilometres to fetch firewood, poor families nursing their loved ones from the effects of inhaling toxic kerosene fumes and those that have to live in darkness because they are unable to afford electricity or spend as little as Sh10 on Kerosene.

“The toxic emissions from such lighting and cooking sources result to 14, 000 deaths annually,” said Kiragu. It’s this scary figure that has moved players like Azuri Technologies; a UK based solar company and the Wangari Maathai Institute among other stakeholders to take action.

Azuri has in the last two years intensified its market activity in Kenya. The UK firm works with a number of local distributors, most of whom are based in rural areas. By so doing, the company has seen increased uptake of solar lighting solutions as well as contributing to economic empowerment.

Azuri was one of the pioneers of a contract payment model called pay-as-you-go. This model allows consumers to own the product, by making an initial deposit payment and then continuing to pay the balance over time using their mobile phones. This friendly purchase model has definitely seen the company’s sales rise over the last two years in Kenya, and has also improved the uptake of clean energy.

“This mode of purchase allows particular flexibility for those with seasonal or intermittent income, especially for farmers,” said Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO at Azuri Technologies.

Azuri customers pay for their energy using mobile money services such as M-PESA. The simple transaction guarantees them light at home and fully charged mobile phones. Azuri charges a weekly rate of Sh150 to Sh200 depending on the type of product purchased.

Flexible financing options for Kenyans accessing solar and other forms of clean energy is key in increasing uptake. The poor for instance, cannot afford large upfront payments because they are not regular income earners. However, if given time, they can make weekly or monthly payments towards the big picture.

“The Azuri pay-as-you-go solar is a good product because of its flexibility on purchase. We find more customers inclined to products with structured payment models because they find it easy to access,” said Kiragu. The cost of a typical 5 or 10 watts solar device typically ranges from Sh5, 000 to Sh15, 000. Many Kenyans still find this difficult to afford, unless they find elastic financing for it.

The Lighting Africa report by International Finance Corporation (IFC) published in 2013 indicated that the price of solar products had drastically dropped by half from 2010. It further showed that the number of solar companies in Kenya was on the rise. IFC certifies and register solar manufacturers and companies. It also conducts research on uptake of clean energy.

It is true that solar device prices have been on the decline, attracting more sales. And it’s also spot-on to say that models such as pay-as-you-go have helped thousands of Kenyans access solar lights.

The pay-as-you-go approach to solar power is growing rapidly. According to the Global Off Grid Lighting Association data, approximately 300,000 pay-as-you-go solar home systems have been sold in East Africa in the last 2 years from a number of suppliers, improving the lives of over 1 million off grid consumers.

As companies continue to push for solar uptake and make it easier for Kenyans to access, it’s our hope that everyone we will all contribute to a clean nation.

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