Solar Lanterns can provide clean lighting for households in East Africa.

Engineers without Borders: Laura's Kenyan journey comes to an end

In her final blog entry for IET Student and early career, engineer Laura Clough reflects on what she had learnt from her experience in Kenya and the difference engineers can make to the issues East Africa faces.

Once more the rains have failed in East Africa and a humanitarian crisis is declared across much of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. As the world generously responds, the situation highlights the ever present need for and perhaps the current failings in long term solutions and mechanisms to tackle the root cause of such problems. As my placement with Engineers without Borders comes to an end and I return to the UK, I reflect on these issues and what I have learnt from my experience in Kenya.

The region’s prevailing issues

Natural resource management and climate change are prevailing issues in East Africa. Although East Africa is low on the list of carbon producing nations it is often the one that deals with some of the consequences this has on climate change, such as changes in whether patterns and drought.

Access to energy is also a major issue here with only approximately 14 per cent of Kenyans having access to grid electricity. Such a situation causes people to look for other sources of fuel and they often turn to the cheap and readily available alternatives such as charcoal and wood leading to deforestation and further affecting natural resource management.

Access to clean energy

Improving access to clean energy in this region can reduce the amount of wood and charcoal households use, for example through the introduction of improved cook stoves and technologies such as solar lanterns. In fact energy is key to meeting many basic human needs such as cooking, lighting and heating and without it many essential services such as healthcare, education and communication would not be possible.

Alongside this, the enterprise approach that GVEP International has taken is also stimulating the creation of income generating businesses and investment in the private sector with the hope that these energy businesses will be more sustainable and continue to provide access to energy past the lifetime of the current project.

I have been impressed with the interest and enthusiasm people have towards clean energy technologies in East Africa. Technologies such as solar lanterns and improved cook stoves can provide health and environmental benefits to the user, for example improved cook stoves can reduce indoor air pollution as well as requiring less fuel for cooking.

Technology must be affordable

Although consumers are interested in these health and environmental benefits for many people in East Africa, who survive on a hand to mouth basis, the price is the essential factor. Many households cannot afford the upfront costs many of these technologies represent even when they can see that they will pay for themselves in a relatively short time frame. For these technologies to be successfully rolled out across the region financial mechanisms also need to be put in place to make them affordable to the people that need them most and many innovative savings and credit schemes are being designed to initiate this.

Engineers have a vital role to play

The energy sector has much to offer in meeting some of the challenges East Africa is facing concerning climate change, natural resource management and access to basic services. And the engineer has a vital role to play whether designing innovative energy projects or designing energy programs to deliver them to the people that need them the most.

My experience in Kenya has been an eye opener into the energy situation, markets and possibilities in this region of the world. Through it I have learnt new skills and knowledge, visited new places and met some remarkable people. As I look to continuing my journey in the delivery of clean and sustainable energy what I have learnt here in Kenya will remain with me and inspire me in this pursuit.

 

Laura Clough is hoping to return to Kenya to continue working in the region’s energy sector for the foreseeable future. We wish her all the best in her career and give our thanks for sharing her experiences with us.

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