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Microhydro in Kenya

Tungu-Kabri project, Mbuiru

The Tungu-Kabri micro-hydro power project in Kenya is a cheap, sustainable and small-scale technology that harnesses the energy of falling water to make electricity.

The Tungu-Kabri Micro-hydro Power Project is the first of its kind in Kenya. Funded by the United Nations Development Programme and developed by Practical Action East Africa and the Kenyan Ministry of Energy, the project benefits 200 households (around 1,000 people) in the Mbuiru village river community. The project is a cheap, sustainable and small-scale technology that harnesses the energy of falling water to make electricity. It also alleviates the environmental problems associated with using wood and dung for cooking, diesel for milling and kerosene for lighting - and keeps on working, even in the face of drought.

Tungu-Kabri project, Mbuiru

The Tungu-Kabri micro-hydro power project in Kenya is a cheap, sustainable and small-scale technology that harnesses the energy of falling water to make electricity.

A weir constructed to create a resovoir of water to ensure a constant flow into the intake channelThe Tungu-Kabri Micro-hydro Power Project is the first of its kind in Kenya. Funded by the United Nations Development Programme and developed by Practical Action East Africa and the Kenyan Ministry of Energy, the project benefits 200 households (around 1,000 people) in the Mbuiru village river community. The project is a cheap, sustainable and small-scale technology that harnesses the energy of falling water to make electricity. It also alleviates the environmental problems associated with using wood and dung for cooking, diesel for milling and kerosene for lighting - and keeps on working, even in the face of drought.

The problem

Life is hard for the women and men in rural Kenya and the need for access to modern, 'clean' energy is acute. 96 per cent off Kenyans live without access to grid electricity. In rural homes, families spend at least a third of their income on kerosene for lighting and diesel for the milling of grain. Kenyan women also devote a huge amount of time collecting, processing and using wood and dung for cooking - time which could be spent on child care, education or income generation.

And according to the UN, in a country where nearly 80 percent of the population rely on farming for a living, poor farmers face declining yields and incomes in the traditional coffee and tea growing areas which pushes them into even more biting poverty. Just to survive, they will be forced to clear forests in higher, cooler, areas. This can only add to environmental damage, which in turn can lead to increased poverty, hunger and ill health.

Putting the power in people's hands

Checking the flow rate in the finished concrete water channel between intake and forebay

Mbuiru village - 200 kilometres north of Nairobi - is a typical rural village in Kenya. It is very poor, with few opportunities for change. However, villagers in Mbuiru had the will to help themselves to generate the power to beat drought and poverty.

Step 1 The project site is assessed. Many rivers do keep flowing, however bad the drought. Practical Action looked at flow records going back 40 years, to ensure the water power project will work. The River Tubgu, near Mbuiru is perfect.

Step 2 Practical Action explains its intentions at a village meeting. The villagers have many questions - the only hydro-power people know about means big dams. Practical Action explains how a small scheme could help them, how it works and how it would belong to all the villagers. Everyone is eager.

Step 3 Villagers hold back the river and start to build an intake weir and canal, giving up every Thursday to labour for months. Families work together, digging, shifting stones and laying concrete. The canal alone takes many weeks to build.

Step 4 Groups of villagers toil to make bays to clean dirt out of the water, and build a tank to hold the water before it goes through 'penstock' pipes into a turbine. People learn to mend as they build, so they can do repairs themselves.

Step 5 Two years later, power! The powerhouse goes up, in goes the machinery. Now the river can be released. The villagers hold their breath. It works and all that effort seems worthwhile.

Impact on the future

"This power is wonderful', says villager Mrs Kaburu. 'All of us will feel the benefit for many years to come'.

The project generates an estimated 18 kilowatts of electrical energy. This amount can light 90 homes and Practical Action estimates that the power the system generates will benefit about 200 households.

In the months ahead, the villagers will be able to light their homes, save time and run small enterprises with this power. This will bring them a little vital money, to help buy clothes, food, and even schooling for their children. Also, water power also means less wood is used - so the environment benefits.


VIDEO: Adam Hart-Davis reports on the impact of the Tungu-Kabri micro-hydro project

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