Kenya’s renewable energy sector is at an exponential level compared to other countries in Africa. The exploitation of solar energy has brought to light brilliant innovators, working tirelessly to produce technology that would advance the industry not only locally but internationally.
One such individual is Robert Chidzugwe, a graduate of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). In 2017, he entered a competition sponsored by the World Bank in collaboration with Kwale County. Driven by the need to reduce the use of firewood for cooking, as was common with members of his community, he developed briquettes that would assist in reducing carbon emissions.
The great reception of the briquettes spurred on the idea to develop a cleaner cooking solution for his community. Through Athel Technology, a company he founded, he has been able to develop the Solar Cooker. It utilises sun energy which is a highly untapped source of energy.
Robert says, “Solar cookers have no emissions and use free solar energy which is accessible worldwide. Solar cooking technology is one way of reducing deforestation as it is less costly as compared to other alternative cooking solutions such as firewood and gas cookers, which need constant refills.”
They manufacture solar electric cookers with gas burners, solar electric grills for barbeque and electric ovens for baking. All products come with in-built back up batteries and solar panels.
The solar panels absorb sunlight as a source of energy to generate direct current electricity. The energy which is created is then stored in a battery for later usage when there is limited solar energy. The induction cooktop is able to access its energy from the battery which has been charged.
In 2019, Robert partnered with Evan Gari to expand the business. He describes the team behind Athel technologies as a creative talented team of engineers that have come together to embrace technology and come up with green efficient ways of conserving and generating energy. The company works with six consultants, who serve as sales representatives, fabricators, installation technicians and one permanent sales agent, Halima.
They currently have two workshops, one in Mazeras, Kwale County and a second one in Shanzu, Mombasa County. The Covid pandemic has not spared them. Clients who had made bookings for the Solar cookers backed out due to lack of funds. He claims that things have been improving and business is going back to normal.
In February 2020, Athel technology partnered with the Kenya Climate Innovation Center to receive business development support.
“I have worked closely with my client lead, Priscila Muindi to patent my invention and to also get Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) certification,” Robert states.
They are working on getting collaborations with real estate developers to have pre-built solar cookers installed in homes. Robert also hopes that Kenyan Universities can embrace the technology. This would allow students to have a safe, affordable cooking solution that would reduce the electricity cost incurred by use of illegal electric coils. Their long term objective is to produce an eco-friendly, clean, reliable and efficient cooking solution for every household.