Summer Field Season in Kenya

As the spring semester drew to a close the signs of summer crept in:  fewer cars parked on the streets of Arcata, foggy mornings, and SERC staff packing for field work on our international projects.  In early June, we embarked on a trip to Kenya to support our ongoing work with the World Bank / IFC Lighting Africa program, which supports the growing market for clean, efficient, affordable solar lighting in the developing world.

Conducting Product Awards Focus Groups

2012 marks the second time that SERC is coordinating an Outstanding Product Awards Competition for Off-grid Lighting (the first was in 2010).  The awards will be given in November in Dakar, Senegal.  Eighteen groups of 10-12 people in India, Kenya, and Senegal have been selected as field judges and their feedback is a key part of the judging process.  The field judges participate in an initial focus group, and then they try out a product in their home for about a week.  Following the in-home trial, they report back at a final focus group.  The judges in Kenya shared their enthusiasm for the project by welcoming us with songs (that we couldn’t understand well) and dance (that was universally understood) to the initial focus groups.  So far, the process has been a success.  We are coordinating the judging in Kenya along with SERC alum Jennifer Tracy, who is leading the overall field judging process.  SERC Engineer Brendon Mendonca is helping coordinate the judging in India, and Chris Carlsen (another SERC alum) is helping in Senegal.

Research assistant Daniel Koech surveys a shop in Kericho.

Surveying the Market for Off-grid Lighting

In between focus groups, we led a survey of shops that sell off-grid lighting products in three Kenyan towns: Kericho, Brooke, and Talek.  This study is an update to a survey that was completed in 2009.  The new survey shows how the market has changed, and preliminary results suggest that many more good quality, affordable lighting products are available today than were three years ago.

Participants in the “train the trainer” session held at the University of Nairobi.

Training Off-grid Lighting Technicians

As the market for good quality off-grid lighting grows, it is inevitable that some will break, but hopefully not too many.  To help ensure that people with broken lights do not slide back to dirty, expensive, unsafe kerosene lighting, it is critical that service and maintenance technicians are able to fix their lights.  Lighting Africa has begun to train technicians to do just this, and plans to hold a number of trainings over the next year in Kenya.  On June 13, we led a “train the trainer” session to build training capacity that Lighting Africa can deploy.  We prepared for the session by developing a comprehensive training package based on the initial trainings held by Lighting Africa.

A shopkeeper in Talek (100 km off the grid) displays two off-grid lighting products he offers for sale. The one on the right (Sun KingTM) has been tested and met Lighting Africa’s Quality Standards.

Looking Forward

These three activities highlight SERC’s diverse engagement in clean off-grid lighting in the developing world.  Our team’s reach goes from the test lab downstairs at SERC in Arcata all the way to the sitting rooms of off-grid homes in Kenya.  Looking forward we will continue to expand our activities with Lighting Africa, and we are in the early process of similar engagement in India.  We’ll keep you apprised of our continued off-grid lighting work in future posts.