When the sky dusked over the idyllic Olderkesi, Narok County on Friday, October 7, 2022, as the shadows got long and the night crept in, one thing was clear. It was not going to be a dark night. Not anymore.
The shop owners in the small shopping centre were not in a hurry to close, the people were not in a hurry to leave. From one shop emanated melodic Maasai tunes, serenading the cold windy night. The moon, as if on cue, had shown up in its splendor, complementing the street lights that had now taken over the shopping centre.
Earlier in the day, the Olderkesi mini-grid powerplant was officially commissioned, marking a major milestone in the journey towards providing the community with clean renewable energy, and subsequently spurring business activities.
“Since my shop got connected, now I can keep working till late in the night, and serve more customers, because people now feel safer in the shopping centre,” said John Sinjaapi, one of the shop-owners in Olderkesi.
The Olderkesi mini-grid powerplant is a product of the JKUAT Sustainable Energies and Entrepreneurship Development (SEED) project, a five-year initiative funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and supported by the Technical University of Munich. The project is jointly implemented by JKUAT and Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC).
Lying somewhere between the Loita/Ngurman hills and the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Olderkesi is completely off the national grid, and is located approximately 100 kilometers from Narok town. The SEED Centre project, which commenced in 2020, sought to ensure the community has access to sustainable source of energy.
Speaking during the commissioning of the grid, JKUAT Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi, thanked the community members for collaborating with the university and project partners, in seeing the initiative come to light.
“We came to you and you warmly welcomed us. You have walked with us in this journey side by side; co-creating, sharing experiences and building this together,” she said.
“My appeal to the Olderkesi community is that you utilize this energy for entrepreneurial ventures and subsequently contribute to development in this area and improve livelihoods,” added Prof. Ngumi.
The Vice Chancellor was represented by Prof. Jackson Kwanza, Ag Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research Production and Extension Division. In her remarks read by Prof. Kwanza, the Vice Chancellor further underscored the university’s continued commitment to not just being a source of knowledge but also deploying resources and research outputs to provide sustainable solutions.
“This marks a historic moment to the community of Olderkesi, particularly noting that energy is a critical enabler for economic transformation of our communities, and we thank you. This mini-grid is therefore a good starting point, even as we plan for future grid extensions,” said Molai Liaram, the Director of Energy and Environment at Narok, who represented the Governor, H.E Patrick Ole Ntutu.
While lauding different partners and stakeholders for driving the project’s success, REREC’s General Manager, Research and Renewable Energy, Dr. Eng. Fred Ishiga, reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to expanding the mini-grid from its current capacity of 12KW to benefit more community members.
In a bid to ensure the implementation of more energy projects in priority areas, Eng. Ishiga further urged Members of Parliament and County Governments to partner with REREC through the ‘Matching Fund Facility’, which involves a cost-sharing arrangement with constituencies and counties.
The SEED Centre has a triple objective of providing clean renewable energy to rural communities that are off-grid, spurring entrepreneurial ventures as a result, and providing a platform for multi-disciplinary training and research, as well as student exchange.
Other members of the JKUAT team present during the commissioning included Dr. Eng. Hiram Ndiritu, the SEED Project Lead, and also Ag Principal, College of Engineering and Technology, as well as Prof. Willy Muturi, Eng. Benson Kariuki, Mr. Dennis Koech (Project Coordinating Officer), and Ms. Cynthia Wainaina.