Institutionalizing Energy Efficiency in Kenya: Making money while making Kenyan institutions more efficient

Team Akiba at a stove manufacturer in Kenya

Team Akiba at a stove manufacturer in Kenya

7/24/13 – Stories from the Field: This post was written by Akiba Energy Solutions, a team of MBA students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University who are spending their summer investigating how to improve energy efficiency at schools in Kenya.

“Take another slice—it’s good when it’s still warm,” says Township High School’s head chef, gesturing to the fresh baked bread loaf on the baking counter between us.  The head chef, a school cook, and our group of four MBA students are standing in the school’s cramped and hot one-room bakery, but no one’s complaining.  The concentrated smell of freshly baked bread more than compensates any discomfort. “We installed the bakery after I did the math and explained to the school’s management how much we could save.  Buying bread is so expensive, and anyway ours tastes better. Please, have another!”

The universally important bottom line

Our Colorado State University (CSU) student group, Akiba Energy Solutions, is now in our fourth of five weeks of exploring how small Kenyan institutions use energy.  Today, we’re finding that the bucolic boarding school of Township High, located near Mombassa, Kenya, has much in common with the other 15 urban and semi-urban schools we’ve visited.  All are equipped with a friendly and conscientious staff, passionate about their student’s success, and very concerned with their institutional bottom line and the resources they’re using.  As with businesses and institutions anywhere, thousands of Kenyan schools are working to provide quality service while reducing costs.

The efficient tools for the job

Akiba Energy Solutions is exploring a for-profit model to assist schools in using energy more efficiently.  Our initial research showed that roughly 15% of a Kenyan school’s annual budget goes to the equipment and fuel needed to provide student meals.  To address this issue, Akiba teamed with researchers at CSU’s Advanced Cookstove Laboratory in 2012 to develop a first-of-its-kind institutional-scale cookstove using gasifier technology.  This unique technology not only dramatically increases a kitchen’s energy efficiency, it also yields charcoal, a valuable byproduct in developing markets.  We have developed our first promising prototype stove and look forward to continuing development in the coming months.

Team Akiba visiting a school kitchen in Kenya

Team Akiba visiting a school kitchen

Akiba has also found that many Kenyan schools are spending an even larger percentage of their overhead on electricity.  Most schools are currently reliant on an undependable and expensive national electrical grid to power lights, computers, water pumps, etc. These schools tend to be uninformed on how the addition of renewable energy generators such as solar panels could reduce their electrical bill while increasing reliability. In our final week, Akiba is meeting with Kenyan banks, solar energy installers, and government energy offices to explore how to fill this market gap.

Headed toward solutions

Munching the last of our bread, we walk back to Township High’s main gate under the protection of strategically planted shade trees.  We discuss as we walk how these trees are a contrasting reminder of the accelerating pressure on natural resources faced by this country and continent.  Our research in Kenya has made it clear that stakeholders here are eager for new, more efficient ways to meet their energy needs.  Akiba looks forward to providing solutions that meet those needs.

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