Kenya, the first East African nation to successfully deploy a mobile digital wallet and banking system a decade ago, has no intentions of slowing down in terms of smart technology adoptions. Similar to the way M-Pesa empowered thousands of Kenyan families to overcome the challenge of not being able to access the banking system, M-Kopa is a system that offers an immediate solution to families who are not able to access the electrical power grid. Some of the researchers who came up with the M-Pesa concept of mobile finance envisioned a way to improve the lives of Kenyans who lack electrical power. Instead of rushing to complete homework before twilight or relying on dangerous kerosene lamps, the M-Kopa kit gives household LED lamps, flashlights, and mobile phone chargers powered by a small solar energy panel.
Mobile technology and solar energy are really helping to transform a large section of Kenyan society. In 2009, just a couple of years after the launch of M-Pesa, Dutch firm Ubbink, a company dedicated to the development of household energy efficiency solutions, launched a solar panel manufacturing operation in Nairobi through a local partnership with Largo Investments. By 2011, Ubbink was formally manufacturing modular solar panels in Kenya. Two years later, the company was already installing solar energy streetlights in low-income neighborhoods. Ubbink intends to have served five million Kenyan customers by next year.
Although Ubbink products are conceived, designed and engineered in Europe, they are proudly manufactured in Kenya for the benefit of East and Central African nations. Aside from home solar panels to power off-grid solutions such as M-Kopa, Ubbink also produces large panels that can be used for utility projects. As part of its corporate social responsibility goals, Ubbink makes an effort to hire female employees. The company is also known as Solinc. The current production capacity at this company is at 140,000 panels per year. With Uganda and Tanzania interested in purchasing solar energy solutions, Ubbink could be manufacturing 300,000 panels per year by the end of the decade.
As with the M-Pesa system, which has been adopted in Afghanistan and some Eastern European nations, Kenya’s current lead in solar panel manufacturing and implementation could be successfully implemented in other developing countries; this is a strategy that is known as south-south cooperation within United Nations circles. In terms of clean and renewable energy, Kenya is in a prime spot to be a leader in the Mother Continent. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization and the International Energy Agency, Kenya is among the least toxic countries in the world. The current initiative to completely eliminate kerosene as a household energy source could be achieved in less than five years, and solar energy could be the ticket in this regard.