Micro-Hydro power improves lives for rural poor



About 96% of the rural population in Kenya still lack access to grid-based electricity. A pilot project run by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in rural Kenya has shown the potential for decentralised micro-hydro schemes to address this lack. In Tungu-Kabiri, rural Kenya, almost 200 households came together and formed a commercial enterprise to own operate a micro hydropower plant, which they construct and continue to maintain themselves. The micro-hydro plant now supplies electricity to a number of local enterprises and households, greatly improving quality of life in the area.


The idea: 

Only 4% of people in rural Kenya currently have access to grid-based electricity. Families instead rely on kerosene for lighting, woodfuel and dung for cooking, and diesel-powered systems for tasks such as milling grain. Cooking with traditional biomass causes severe air-pollution and health problems, takes considerable time and effort to collect, and, purchasing kerosene takes up about 1/3 of a rural family's income.

In 1998 - following the 1997 Kenya Electric Power Act that allowed independent power producers to supply to the grid - the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry Energy (MOE) and with funding from the UNDP, undertook a pilot project to illustrate the potential for decentralised micro-hydro schemes to address the lack of electricity. After an initial feasibility study, Tungu-Kabiti - a 300 household community about 185km north of Nairobi - was chosen as the site for the pilot project.

About 200 members of this community came together and formed a commercial enterprise to own, operate and maintain a micro hydropower plant. Each individual bought a share in the company, with a maximum share value of about US$50. The 200 members then contributed labour, dedicating every Tuesday for over a year to the construction work, which was overseen by the MOE and ITDG. Involving the community in all aspect of project development from the start was critical to reducing local technical barriers and it ensured that the community could effectively maintain and repair the micro hydropower system themselves.

The micro hydropower plant is owned, operated and maintained by the community, and this complete community ownership has been central to the project's success. The day-to-day operations of the plant are managed by a 10-member community power committee, and this committee also conducts consultations with the wider community about how the power generated from the system should be used. The energy is currently used mainly for some lighting in houses, and for micro-enterprises, such as a welding unit, a battery-charging station and a beauty salon. A medical clinic and a water-pumping unit are the next intended uses of the energy.

This project has shown that micro-hydro can effectively meet the energy needs of poor off-grid communities, and has demonstrated that communities are willing to invest time and money for improved energy services, and can organise themselves to build and operate a micro hydropower plant.

Where and When: Tungu-Karibi, Kenya. Start date, April 1998.

Initiated By: ITDG, with funding from UNDP Small Grants Programme, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy, Kenya.