By Annie Njanja
For those who want solar power without looking like they have it, they have options.
Homeowners using solar energy have had to settle for panels which are mounted on rooftops. But new technology has brought into the Kenyan market, solar-power tiles, which allow a roof to maintain its design appeal.
Strauss Energy, a Kenyan company, is betting on the solar tiles to increase the uptake of green energy and lower installation cost.
Tony Nyagah, Strauss Energy chief executive officer, said the solar tiles are integrated right into the roof, allowing developers and home owners to construct houses without worrying about the need to create allowances for the installation of panels.
“We infuse solar panels and roofing tiles meaning that more surface area is utilised and the uniformity and beauty of the roof is maintained,” said Mr Nyagah.
Many homeowners are turning to solar energy to cut power costs but they are those who don’t relish the look of traditional photovoltaic solar panels, because their appearance detracts the aesthetic of the roof.
One tile goes for Sh2,500 and covering a square foot costs Sh12,500.
The cost is relatively high, but the engineering company has come up with a plan that allows buyers to pay in installments.
A household needs to have a third of the rooftop installed with the solar roofing tiles to have enough power to run on.
The firm has partnered with three manufacturers in China, that install the solar cells into the tiles. The company previously manufactured the roofing tiles, but the high production costs forced it to source partners outside Kenya.
He hopes to set up its own assembly plant in Machakos, a move that will help it control the production process.
“We did not get the quality we needed (when producing locally) and that is why we went to China last year. We now have the capacity to consistently produce high quality tiles,” he said.
Mr Nyagah, an engineer by profession, came up with the idea, but it was his sister Charity Wanjiku, an architect and co-founder of the firm, who perfected the design of the tile.
The firm also works in partnership with the Climate Innovation Centre at Strathmore University, which has helped the founders to scale-up their business.
The tiles are attached to an air compression system, which is a type of storage that allows for more power storage. Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) is a way to preserve energy for later usage by pumping heated and compressed air into an airtight chamber, and then releasing it through a turbine to generate power when needed.
The technology was used in ancient Greece to power clocks and fire cannons, and most recently in medical equipment.
“If you use the normal batteries then you have a limitation and quality issues because the steep demand of electricity in a typical household system cannot be supported by the battery. With air compression there is no limitation on usage,” he said.
Mr Nyagah said that the company’s ultimate plan is to take energy to the people that have no access to electricity.
“Africa should be benefiting most from solar energy because of its prime position in the tropics, but it is surprising that most of the countries in the continent are energy poor. Our idea is to bridge this gap,” he said.
Mr Nyagah is confident that the solar tiles will increase the uptake of alternative energy in Kenya, as global solar energy usage is predicted to grow six-fold by 2030.
Strauss Energy hopes to install the solar roofing tiles in 1,000 houses before the year ends and double the figure next year.