Assessment Trip – Day 1
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
After a day-and-a-half of traveling, the assessment team (Steve, Avnaesh, Ayesha and Henry) made it safely to Nairobi. We will spend the next five days here visiting with potential suppliers and vendors for the Muhuru Bay Micro Grid Project, as well as meeting with other organizations that have done or fund projects similar ours.
We are staying at Rosa Mystica—a spiritual retreat—that has extra rooms this time of year. The rooms are modest, but we have electricity, hot water and even WiFi! Nairobi in many ways reminds me of Lusaka, Zambia, only much more crowded. Many of the roads are in need of serious repair, the traffic is chaotic and there is a strange juxtaposition of wealthy and extremely poor Kenyans. The weather is around 60-70 degrees F, and is not humid.
We spent today meeting with two vendors: WindGen Power East Africa and One Degree Solar. WindGen is a private company that was founded about three years ago by two Americans and one Kenyan. They specialize in installing off-grid microgrids powered by wind and PV. They build the wind turbines and towers in-country using almost entirely Kenya materials and suppliers, except for the Rare Earth magnets. They use a slightly modified “Home Brew” wind turbine (approximately 1000W, 3 phase AC, self-furling). Having built two similar turbines, I was especially impressed to see the modifications and enhancements they made.
We then visited a wind turbine/PV system that they installed just outside the urban area of Nairobi. The turbine was spinning away, generating electricity.
On the way back to Nairobi we ran into a traffic jam. All lanes of this major highway were blocked by large rocks. A group was protesting the shooting of a truck driver by a police officer. The crowd swelled to several thousand people, though aside from the traffic backup, there was no harm done. We made the best of the situation and ate snacks and took pictures. The whole ordeal lasted about an hour and a half.
Later in the day we met with One Degree Solar. This was a last-minute addition to the agenda. The company makes portable battery kits (PBK) and are competitors to BBOXX. Their office is in a newer shopping center in Nairobi. Their PBK (called BrightBox) is sleek—bright orange with smooth lines—and comes with a 5.4W polycrystalline solar panel and accessories. It retails for 8500 Ksh (about US$100), and wholesales for 7000 Ksh.
In the late evening, we met with a Board member of Renewable World East Africa at the swank Kempinski Hotel (their choice). Their organization fundraises for projects such as ours. It was enjoyable hearing a Kenyan talking about rural electrification projects, and his life in village when he was younger.
Tomorrow is another full day. We meet with Alstom in the morning (our major donor), Chloride Exide in the afternoon and the officers from the IEEE in the evening.