Tag Archives: sustainability

Kitonyoni Solar Mini-grid and Integration of Thermal Energy Services

Binu Parthan from SEA writes on his recent visit to the Kitonyoni Solar Mini-Grid project, part of the University of Southampton’s efforts for the Energy for Development (E4D) project they lead.

The solar mini-grid at Kitonyoni near Machakos in Makueni County was financed by the UK government and commissioned in 2012 by the STEPs partner The Sustainable Energy Research Group at University of Southampton. The Kitonyoni Solar mini-grid is managed by Makueni County Solar Energy Co-op Society Ltd which is owned and managed by the community.


Management of the Solar Electric Cooperative and manager of the mini-grid business. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

In July 2016, I travelled to Kitonyoni to visit the solar min-grid and meet with the community. While at Kitonyoni, I met with Joseph, Monicah, William and Shadrack from the management Makueni County Solar Energy Co-op Society Ltd and also with Stephen, the manager of the mini-grid and energy service business. With the community leaders and the manager of the mini-grid, I visited several businesses and households that were consuming electricity from the cooperative to understand the business model. The solar electric cooperative seems to be professionally managed and financially sustainable. They operate on a for-profit business basis and the financial accounts reveal that the operation is financially sustainable. The electricity cooperative uses a pre-paid card system for electricity sales and payments which seems to be working well. The electricity consumers are more conscious of energy use and payments and the cooperative is also happy with the upfront collections. The number of shops in the Kitonyoni market has significantly increased since the solar mini-grid was commissioned and the value of the land in the area has also almost tripled. However, the tariff charged by the solar electric cooperative is considerably higher than the public electricity utility but the community has been willing to pay a higher tariff due to better availability and reliability.


One of the new businesses established in the Kitonyoni market powered by the solar mini-grid. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates/span>

STEPs project team at University of Southampton had carried out a survey to examine the possibility of integrating thermal energy services into the existing electrical energy service business model. The results showed that 90% of the households in Kitonyoni use firewood for cooking which is available without cost to the community (Bahaj and Kanani, 2016). While the households spends over 5 hours to gather firewood, there is limited interest in switching to cleaner cooking options such as LPG which involve additional financial expenditure. The opportunity to integrate a solar thermal energy service along with the electricity service seems rather limited due to limited scope and demand for commercial fuels. The firewood is available freely in the area and LPG distribution networks are not available in the village.  Therefore currently, there does not seem to be a business case for introduction of an LPG franchise model and integrate the model into the solar electricity business. However some thoughts that I shared with the community were:

Since households and restaurants are cooking in separate rooms than their houses and as there is a preference for community schemes, will a community electric cooking scheme succeed? This may be relevant as on most days the battery bank of the solar mini-grid seems to be fully charged in the early afternoon and this could provide an opportunity for a central cluster of electric induction cookers which people can use to cook on a pay per use basis(similar to battery charging) to the cooperative.

It is possible that people may opt for efficient Cookstoves/Jikos if available on a hire-purchase/PAYG basis and reduce the amount of firewood to be collected resulting in time savings. An efficient Jiko will cost 45 $ which could be offered on a loan basis with daily/weekly/monthly payments to people by the cooperative for 6 months to 1 year tenure. These funds could be revolved over the time period to reach other members.

A differential tariff with a lower tier-tariff for the shops and establishments that use electricity during the day will likely improve the revenue model of the cooperative and can increase the utilisation levels. Such a tariff regime could allow the use of induction electric cookers at households during the day. Such a development could result in increasing sales and revenue and improving the business viability.


Cooking using firewood and a metallic stove in Kitonyoni. Image: Sustainable Energy Associates

Therefore the technology options for thermal energy and cooking in Kitonyoni is electric cooking or efficient Cookstoves with the possible business models of pay-per-use or hire-purchase respectively. A differential tariff with lower off-peak tariff could also allow electric cooking during the day time and improve the business model. These options are not entirely obvious and needs to be investigated and defined. This approach will certainly face stiff competition from free biomass availability and availability of free time for fire-wood collection.

Dr. Binu Parthan


“Fuel Switching” To LPG: Substituting More Sustainable Fuels

‘Fuel switching’ has achieved some prominence in the sustainable energy for development discourse. Fuel switching is usually used to define situations where end-users transition from less-sustainable traditional fuels, such as fossil fuels like kerosene or paraffin, or traditional woodfuels, to more sustainable sources of fuel used for the same purpose. For example, kerosene for lighting may be substituted for electric lighting from a solar home system, or woodfuels used for cooking or heating may be substituted for LPG.

Fuel switching has been particularly put forward when relating to LPG uptake in developing countries, as LPG fuel has significant benefits over other modes of fuel used for similar purposes. These can include superior combustion properties, producing less indoor air pollution with the attendant co-benefits in terms of public health. Fuel switching can lead to a reduced burden on the end-user for energy resource acquisition, such as alleviating the time burden of collecting woodfuels or purchasing charcoal/kerosene.

STEPs LPG Blog 1 Graph 1

Time spent collecting wood fuels per day by women in different African countries, 1990-2003, World Bank 2006. Source: http://ourworldindata.org/data/environmental-change/indoor-air-pollution/

Fuel switching (combined with the use of efficient cookstoves) can also lead to improved performance resulting from the use of a more energy-dense fuel, such as reduced cooking times.

STEPs LPG Blog 1 Graph 2

A comparison of different types of clean cookstoves and their relative energy consumptions and times to boil water. Source: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2014/06/thermal-efficiency-cooking-stoves.html

But fuel switching is not a one-way process where energy users switch to modern fuels and never come back to traditional fuels. Energy stacking is defined as when end-users in developing countries engage in multi-modal fuel usage depending on a variety of factors (e.g. variances in household income seasonally or over time), or utilising certain fuels for specific purposes (e.g. using kerosene for lighting and woodfuels for cooking).

Creating the incentive for a household, commercial enterprise or industry to engage in fuel switching can be challenging. The barriers to increased uptake of sustainable energy sources and more-sustainable energy equipment, such as solar home systems or LPG cooking apparatus, are well-documented [1] [2]. These can include higher costs for fuels, high initial investment costs putting systems/equipment out of reach of users, and problems with fuel availability, for example in distributing LPG fuels to remote rural areas.

These issues will be addressed in the next article in this series on the STEPs Blog, “Methods of Promoting LPG Uptake in Developing Countries”.

— Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute, February 2016

[1] Pandey & Chaubal (2011) Comprehending household cooking energy choice in rural India. Biomass & Bioenergy, Vol. 35, pp. 4724 – 4731.

[2] Rai & McDonald (2009) Cookstoves and Markets – Experiences, Successes and Opportunities. Available at: http://www.hedon.info/docs/GVEP_Markets_and_Cookstoves__.pdf#