Solar roof tiles power Kenya’s rural classrooms

05 September 2017

With nearly half its population not connected to the grid, Kenya is experimenting with a local and sustainable approach to powering schools with the sun.

Gaitheri Secondary School in central Kenya’s Murang’a County has had one of its iron-sheet roofs covered in solar generating tiles known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).

Designed to be laid on roofs during construction, the tiles offer an alternative to adding solar panels on top to produce power.

They were made by Kenyan firm Strauss Energy and paid for with a grant from the United States African Development Foundation.

The project started in 2016, and has enabled students to improve their performance thanks to more reliable power, which means they can study even after dark.

The solar power is stored in batteries, ensuring a continuous supply at night and on cloudy days. “Irrespective of the weather, we rely on solar power,” said Jackson Kamau Kiragu, a teacher at the school. The BIPV technology has also allowed the school to offer computer lessons.

Reuters said the BIPV tiles have reduced the school’s spending on electricity to about $14.50 a month.

A survey commissioned by Christian Aid and the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance this year showed that only about 57% of Kenyans are connected to the grid.

Strauss Energy believes it can meet the need for electricity, and plans to build a plant to make 10,000 units daily.

But COO, Charity Wanjiku, told Reuters he Kenyan construction industry is reluctant to incorporate new technologies.

Authorities are pushing solar, however. In April, Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission directed property owners whose buildings use more than 100 litres of hot water a day to install solar water-heating systems.

The tiles cost between $20 and $250 each, depending on their size.

Research and development is underway to improve the product and bring down costs while enhancing efficiency, Wanjiku said.

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