Sunny Outlook: Supporting the Future of Kenya's Solar Market
Huawei worked with local partner Jubaili Bros, providing a leading solar energy solution to the longest-running Photovoltaics (PV) training school in Kenya, Strathmore University.
Africa has the most sun — more strictly speaking, solar irradiation — of all the world's continents. Clearly, there is huge potential for the solar market here, especially in areas where the traditional power grid is weak, or even nonexistent. In Kenya, for example, 63.8% of the population was not connected to electricity as recently as 2018, according to the World Bank.
Solar is seen by many as the best way to support basic energy needs in African countries, as well as to help achieve ambitious carbon emissions goals. Indeed, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that, with the right enabling policies, Africa could have more than 70 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2030, supporting around 21 million households.
But, somewhat, paradoxically, although it has plenty of sun, Africa is probably the least developed continent in terms of both total PV capacity and access to electricity. One of the key challenges for the wider adoption of solar energy, then, is education and training. Providing a new generation of African engineers with the latest technology and most up-to-date skills is key — particularly given how fast the PV sector has evolved — if they are to keep pace with industry trends and remain relevant as demand for solar installations, maintenance, and operations grows.
Indeed, the solar industry in Kenya has been active for around two decades. Its earliest days were dominated by low quality equipment, and rather poorly executed installations were not unusual, resulting in system failures and a bad reputation for the industry as a whole. Again, education and properly trained PV professionals are both key.
This, then, is the space Kenyan institution Strathmore University occupies and the Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) — a part of the university set up in 2012 and accredited by Kenya's National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) — is tasked with offering training for renewable energy professions. Taking in the bigger picture, Kenya’s energy field suffers from a lack of skilled personnel qualified to design, install, and effectively maintain modern energy systems. However, SERC is helping to bridge this gap, providing practical, hands-on training courses. And, to date, more than 1000 technicians have been trained in the programs at SERC and other partner institutions in East and West Africa.
To enhance its training capabilities, SERC needed to choose new equipment and solutions, ones offering the highest levels of reliability, availability, and after-sales service support. Huawei's local partner, Jubaili Bros, recommended the Huawei SUN2000-10KTL inverter, equipped with the most advanced technology available on the market.
Nick Lusson, Business Development Executive at Jubaili Bros, said: "We believe that this Huawei inverter will help Strathmore University build a stronger future for the solar industry in Kenya."
There are many reasons why the Huawei SUN2000-10KTL inverter is the right fit for Strathmore. An innovative solution for residential or industrial self-consumption PV installations, it has a three-phase network and a compact, lightweight design that offers a great degree of flexibility in terms of installation.
Rising energy costs worldwide, within a growing climate emergency, makes the provision of affordable and clean energy a matter of great urgency for countries like Kenya. The Huawei solution focuses on string inverters, offering dynamic Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) efficiency as well as TÜV-verified inverter availability of at least 99.996%. This helps solar plants generate more energy over the full lifecycle, providing higher yields for the whole system.
For any solar project, safety is a key concern, particularly when installing panels on rooftops. One of the key features of Huawei's solution is active safety: inverters are enabled with an arcing protection function known as an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI). This means that an inverter can be shut down in just 0.5 seconds after an arc fault is detected, and the self-learning arc features an Artificial Intelligence (AI) model, which only makes it more accurate over the course of time.
Huawei's FusionSolar App
Helping to better understand a solar plant's performance, a smart dongle plugged into the inverter connects to Huawei's FusionSolar app over Wi-Fi. This provides remote monitoring functionality to Operations and Maintenance (O&M) staff, allowing them to check the performance of the whole solar system without having to be onsite.
This feature is also a great fit for Strathmore and its focus on practice-based education: SERC PV students are now able to log into the FusionSolar app to monitor the performance of the inverter and PV system in real-time. They can see the amount of electricity produced from solar panels through the Huawei inverter, as well as all performance-related alerts and O&M requirements.
"I would recommend Huawei inverters to anyone who wants to install inverters, whether residential or commercial. They occupy a small size and they are battery-ready, unlike other grid-tied inverters in the market that necessitate an inverter charger separate from a grid-tied inverter. This makes it quite a versatile solution and good for many applications," said Eric Otieno, a PV Trainer at SERC.
With COVID-19 disrupting in-person, face-to-face education, SERC launched an online platform, enabling it to widen its reach, and is actively looking forward to partnering with more institutions, making training in renewables more accessible than ever before.
Fully conscious of the very real threat climate change represents, many global governments have set ambitious carbon emissions goals — energy transformation has been identified as key to help bringing them about. Additionally, investing in solar energy is proving to be an effective way of energizing economies, stalled in face of the pandemic. With clear and growing demand for solar solutions, Huawei plans to ship more than 500 MW of inverters to customers in Africa in 2021.
In the long term, Huawei and Jubaili Bros plan to continue to work with SERC and to identify more training schools similar to it, to support them and improve the prospects of graduates working in the solar industry. With an ever-growing number of experienced PV professionals working in Kenya, indeed in Africa as a whole, the outlook for the solar industry in the region, it seems, looks sunny indeed.