On January 25, 2023, Kenya Power announced plans to roll out new tariffs to increase electricity cost.
The new tariff proposed doubles the electricity charges for users consuming over 30 units monthly.
With the rising electricity prices, Kenyans online started mulling over switching to solar power to save costs.
Kenyans.co.ke reached out to experts to ascertain whether solar power was a cheaper alternative to electricity, commonly called grid power.
James Ogutu, an electrical engineer, argued that the cost of either option depends on several factors.
“Solar power requires huge initial capital, unlike grid power but then its maintenance cost is low,” he explained.
Jacob Mwamburi, a certified electrician, backed his sentiments.
“Solar power depending on the intended use can be very expensive to install but once the installation is complete, maintenance cost is close to nil,” he agreed with Ogutu.
How much does it cost to install solar power in Kenya
Ogutu explained that a standard household will require 3000 watts (W) to 5000W of solar power. With 5000W, electrical appliances such as a fridge, microwave, and television can be powered alongside an electric fence and CCTV.
“In the current market, it costs Ksh100 per watt and that translates to Ksh500,000 in installation,” he explained.
His estimates are not far off from Mwamburi’s, which majorly installs solar panels in the coastal region.
“I charge between Ksh250,000 to 500,000 depending on the size of the house.
“The cost varies because if you need more power load, it means more solar panels and batteries,” he explains the variation in prices.
Is solar power cheaper than grid power?
Solar power mostly favours the middle and upper middle classes in Kenya, as explained by Engineer Ogutu.
“The super-rich in Kenya mostly enjoy uninterrupted grid power while the lower class cannot afford the expensive initial capital,” he explains, adding that solar can power your house for up to 10 years.
While Mwamburi agrees with Ogutu on the reliability of solar power, he points out that in 10 years, it would be impossible to use Ksh500,000 in electricity tokens.
“A standard house using 5000W can be paying Ksh2,000 in Kenya Power tokens which translates to Ksh240,000 in ten years,” Mwamburi argues.
“That is true but then if you factor in blackouts and also peace of mind when using solar power, it is a worthy investment,” Engineer Ogutu counters.
When should you use solar power?
Ogutu advises that solar is more effective in rural areas with low grid power connectivity.
“There is no doubt, without interruptions, grid power is the best option. But solar becomes the best alternative in rural areas where connectivity is low,” Ogutu explains.
Mwamburi urges Kenyans to use both options, arguing it is more cost-effective.
“You can use a change-over switch to determine which appliances you want to be using grip power and which appliances will use solar power," he advises.
In rural areas, Ogutu offers a loophole on how residents can circumnavigate the high installation fees.
“There are companies which offer subscriptions for solar installation. You pay some amount daily just like Kenya power tokens but after a period of time you fully own the solar panels,” he enlightens Kenyans.
Kenyans.co.ke further spoke to Lucian Nzilani, a homeowner who decided to install solar power instead of electricity.
“I wanted grid power, but Kenya Power gave me a quotation of Ksh2.9 million without factoring in wiring costs,” she claimed.
She decided to get a solar power quotation for her three-bedroom house.
“In total, I used Ksh120,000 for wiring and the solar panels cost Ksh77,000 which to me was a better value for money,” she explained.
Nzilani, on whether she would ever go to grid power, stated, “Yes, if Kenya Power reduces the connection fee, I will definitely switch over.”
“If I need appliances which need more power like a lawn mower, I will have to revise my solar plan to increase power load,” she explains why she longs for grid power.