23-year old Tracy Kimani was interning at an electrical company in 2017 when she came across mini-grids for the very first time. These are devices that can generate, store and distribute electricity on a small scale by transforming the energy generated from water, solar or coal, to power.
As she went about her duties in the villages, she witnessed first-hand how these devices had transformed the lives of the residents who had previously had no access to electricity. This sparked in her a desire to invest in energy generation.
Her company was born as a result of unstinting, unending work, a quest for perfection, and the determination to make a difference in rural communities.
This is her story…
After graduating with a degree in Environmental Science, her desire for sustainable development through solar energy grew.
“When I completed my internship at Hyperteck Electrical Service last year, I applied to MGA and spent eight weeks learning more about mini-grids. Afterwards, I set up Tree_Sea.mals, an organization that advocates for the use of environment-friendly sources of energy,” she says.
It is during her stint at MGA that she visited Telek in Masai Mara where the use of mini-grids was vastly employed.
“The area around Masai Mara had typical villages with mud houses and no electricity but Telek was different. There were entertainment spots, banks and hotels, and all that was possible because they generated their own electricity. After that visit, I got the assurance that I could successfully execute my plan of building mini-grids for communities with limited energy access.”
After she returned to Nairobi from Telek, she went to the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority offices and sought information on electrification. She asked to be given a list of areas with no electricity, and then identified those that met her specifications. She was ready to put the technical skills she had gained during her internship as well as what she had learned at MGA into practice.
“I settled on Dadachabasa village in Isiolo, and with the support of my friends and family, I set out to do a feasibility study to find out whether the residents could afford the power, and if they would be willing to pay for it.
“I used this data to apply to the Tony Elumelu Foundation Fellowship for Young Entrepreneurs. I got it and received funding worth Sh520,000. With this money, I embarked on putting together a one kilowatt (1KW) project in Meru, which I launched in June 2019,” she says.
Tracy is currently working on a new 15KW project in Isiolo.
“I want to focus on providing electricity locally because most African governments focus on urban areas, leaving the rural village without social amenities. I want to enable locals to make electricity work for them, and also to ensure that they utilise it appropriately.
“Most people use electricity primarily for lighting and charging their phones, but that is not the most productive way to use it. I want to help them achieve economic empowerment. I want everyone to know that they can make money from electricity, and that is why I am investing in mini-grids and cold storage facilities.
She has encountered several challenges in the course of her work, but she cites funding and lack of mentorship as the biggest obstacles.
“In the energy sector, just like in any business, the hardest part is starting out. But once you are there, things become easier, and you grow with time.