Renewed communities through renewable energy
By Mwendwa Kiogora
The Maasai community can use alternative energy through wind turbine at the Olosho-Ibor Community Power Centre. Photo: Laercio Miranda. Photo: Mwendwa Kiogora
Strong wind currents vigorously rotate turbines at the foot of the scenic Ngong hills in Kenya’s rift valley. The turbines are a landmark of Olosho-Ibor, home to 6,000 Maasai who are not yet connected to the national electricity grid but can now tap into an alternative source.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization erected the turbines as part of a micro-scale hybrid power plant. The plant combines wind, solar energy and plant oil with a diesel generator to create electricity. The manager of the centre and a resident Maasai, Simon Parkesian, says the wind turbines generate 3,000 watts while the 16 solar panels on the rooftop generate 2,000 watts. This is boosted by a 12,000 watt generator that can run on either diesel or vegetable oil. “We are now distributing electricity to the community centre, a nearby school, a dispensary and soon to the nearby church,” says Parkesian.
Before the Olosho-Ibor center was set up in 2009, residents were forced to walk 25 km to the Ngong Township to charge their mobile phones or watch TV. But now the energy centre serves as an office, a battery charging room, a computer laboratory, a TV room, a welding area and a barber shop. For just a small fee of less than USD 0.50, the locals can enjoy these amenities.
The impact of having electricity in the area is felt by students of the Olosho-Ibor primary school whose academic performance has improved. They can study longer hours under good lighting, and the school ranked top in the region. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization also assisted in the distribution of LED lights so that the students and their parents can use it at home and recharge it at the Olosho-Ibor Community Power Centre.
Benefits for the community
LED street lights have been built at Olosho-Ibor primary school. Photo: Laercio Miranda. Photo: Mwendwa Kiogora
30-year-old Kennedy Mambui, a local resident, is among the many in the area who personally benefited from the wind turbines project. Although he holds a diploma in electrical wiring, he had been jobless until the centre tapped his skills and gave him a job as a welder. Kennedy also collects fees from visitors who come to watch TV and movies at the Olosho-Ibor Community Power Centre’s social hall. “I am now able to take care of myself and my family,” he says.
The centre has also become a social hub for young people. Elijah Pulei, 18, spends most of his free time with his friends. “We now come to the centre and share ideas of projects that we can start off and are able to connect with the rest of the world by browsing the internet,” he says. Many young people have also learned computer skills at the centre, giving them an advantage as they seek employment.
The hospital dispensary can now boast of caring for more patients instead of referring them to other far-off hospitals, since it is able to offer drugs which require refrigeration, especially immunizations.
The Olosho-Ibor project offers a sense of ownership to the residents. It provides them opportunities to generate their own revenue and access two key social pillars: education and health. The residents have gone further to form a community-based organization to come up with other income generating activities such as soap making and renting tents for events. Now they plan to build a safe house to protect Maasai girls whose parents plan to marry them off when they are too young. Additional plans include installing another solar panel to provide an even wider area with power connection.
Zakayo Laboi is charging his cell phone at the Ngong Center. Photo: Mwendwa Kiogora
Changara Community Power Centre in western Kenya is another project similar to the Olosho-Ibor project, and also initiated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. The centre also uses renewable energy with eight solar panels generating 1,800 watts. The community is now able to produce their own sunflower oil from seeds that are used for human consumption and as an alternative to diesel fuel.
These community-based initiatives have enabled residents to access affordable and renewable sources of energy. They are examples of sustainable growth in the community that will not only benefit the residents but those who will come after them.