“Renew-ABLE against Covid” successfully repowers a health centre in Kenya

The Covid-19 pandemic rapidly affected most of the world, strained health systems and posed new challenges, especially in developing countries. The need for an affordable and reliable source of energy became even more essential to ensure proper medical assistance and prevention, particularly where national electricity grids were unable to provide an adequate service in terms of quantity and quality.

So in March, RES4Africa contributed to the launching of Renew-ABLE against Covid, an initiative promoted by Technical Solidarity Onlus which gathers researchers, professionals, technicians and students from universities and associations to support the realisation and running of PV plants, with the ultimate aim to ensure a reliable electricity supply to health centres for Covid treatment. The initiative identified 12 centres in Kenya whose ordinary activities were hindered by multiple energy disruptions every day due to the limited extension and the low quality of national grids. Among these 12 centres, the experts selected the Nchiru Health Centre as a pilot.

The Nchiru Health Centre, located in the Meru region (eastern Kenya) and managed by Associazione Italiana Nomadi dell’Amore (AINA), is one of the DREAM (Disease Relief through Excellent and Advanced Means) health centres in Kenya, a project carried out by Sant’Egidio Community to foster the right to health and fight HIV virus and malnutrition. It had therefore become one of the most relevant health centres in the surrounding area, serving hundreds of people, and it was selected for its potential to play a key role for prevention, diagnostic and treatment in the framework of Coronavirus.

Due to the Covid emergency, the centre needed to be expanded to enhance its capacity in fighting the pandemic. As a consequence, the energy demand of the centre grew and its energy supply systems needed to be upgraded as well. To this end, the project aimed at repowering the 5 kWp PV hybrid plant to reach a total power of 10 kWp by providing additional 5 kWp generation capacity through PV panels and 20 kWh storage batteries.

Under the coordination of Elettrici Senza Frontiere (Electrical workers without borders), the executive design, the procurement process and construction of the plant were carried out, in which Micro-Grid Academy alumni played a fundamental part. Moreover, RES4Africa provided the training and capacity building activities necessary to carry out the project’s preliminary design. The project has now been completed, and in addition to the installation of a hybrid 5 kWp photovoltaic system with 38 kWh of batteries storage, 145 old lighting fixtures have been replaced with new LED lamps to ensure a better performance and reduce consumption and operating costs by up to 30%.

“As part of the Renew-ABLE against Covid initiative, in a year in which many organisations were forced to stop, Elettrici Senza Frontiere continued its activity on the field” explains Felice Egidi, President of Elettrici Senza Frontiere, “Also counting on the local technical staff, already trained by the Micro-Grid Academy, Elettrici Senza Frontiere remotely built a photovoltaic plant with a storage system in Nchiru, Kenya, to upgrade the electrical system of the local health centre, where the association had already carried out previous missions. An operating model that, even in this difficult period, has allowed Elettrici Senza Frontiere to continue to intervene in Africa through a real ‘smart working’, selecting a local company, SolarEdge, which was commissioned to install the plant, always with constant supervision from Italy”.

“Creating a skilled local workforce is essential to the deployment of renewable energy in Africa, and this is why it’s a key pillar of RES4Africa’s operate” concludes Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, “We are proud to have contributed through the MGA to the expansion of Nchiru Health Centre’s PV system. I thank the MGA alumni for their crucial role, as it would have otherwise been impossible to carry out all the on-field activities due to the Covid restrictions”.

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