Why are we scared of free electricity?

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Why are we scared of free electricity?

It never fails to amaze me how even though Nairobi sits literally on the equator and also enjoys over 10 hours of constant sunlight every day through the year, there are a negligible number of photovoltaic panels that can be seen on the roofs of commercial and residential buildings.

So, when I keep reading posts on social media about how unreliable and expensive Kenya Power & Lighting is it makes me wonder how sincere those posting are about finding a solution.

With the rapid drop in the cost of generating and distributing (from your roof to the distribution panel), solar electricity one would have expected that countries in the tropics would have been at the forefront of its implementation but clearly, the initial marketing of solar as a cheap man's solution still lingers.

I have a colleague who grew up in a rural home that utilized solar for electricity allowing him the unfair advantage of reading into the night without having to use smokey paraffin lamps as did his peers thus allowing him to perform extremely well making it to the university to study electrical engineering.

Yet, immediately he could afford to pay the hefty fee to connect the home into the grid he jumped onto the opportunity, rewired the houses electrical system, threw down the solar panel, donated the car battery, and then installed an electrical meter provided by the local utility company, I will leave you to make your conclusions.

For years we, including yours truly, have been raising all kinds of objections as to why we were not taking advantage of the sunshine falling daily on the roofs of our houses, schools, hospitals, and office buildings such as that it was unreliable, expensive, and dangerous.

A few years ago a supplier of ours put up a brand new building literally a stone's throw away from the CBD and about 200 meters from the offices of the largest power generating company in the country, Kengen, and equidistant to Kenya Power & Lighting the last-mile provider.

Since they are importers of solar power components they felt it only logical to install on the building solar panels not only to reduce costs and outages but also to act as a showcase of what solar power can achieve today.

So they installed solar panels on the roof of the 8 storey building, which has 3 high capacity cargo lifts, connected to a grid-tied inverter as they hoped to be allowed to sell any excess electricity they produced into the grid, for those who have tried to get a feed-in tariff know that it would be less painful to remove a molar without anesthesia.

The main problem with a grid-tie inverter is that if the grid is down you too are down and the typical solution is to install a diesel guzzling generator to mimic the grid.

Since they wanted to be green they decided this would not be feasible opting to instead install a battery bank, think Tesla PowerWall, to store the excess energy and also provide backup power at those times when the African sun was feeling a little shy.

Today, the entire building is run from solar power, yet they have utilized less than 50% of the available roof space of the building (0.3 of an acre which is roughly 1,200 square meters) onto which they have installed the PV panels. That 600 square meters of roof space can generate a peak capacity of 50 KWH, twice their current load, imagine how much power one can generate from the rooftop of an industrial complex with 2 or more acres of roof space.

So, when I hear of listed company CEOs making presentations about going green yet they do not utilize a single square foot of their building roofs to generate electricity it baffles me, but I will not hold it against them as innovation isn't something that we usually expect from large organizations, but I digress.

With the rapid drop in the cost of PV panels and battery storage, it is now cheaper to generate your own power from your rooftop than tapping into the grid which is unreliable, expensive, and dirty (we do have 20% thermal generation on the grid).

Now for the pitch, if you seriously want to go beyond lip service to the green narrative then get in touch with us to discuss how you can harness the energy from the sun while at the same time reducing your organization's or home's carbon footprint.

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