Last month, solar water desalinations units were officially opened in a ribbon cutting ceremony in Ndauni Market for community members of Kitui County to use, an important step in increasing access to clean water and improving livelihoods.
The units, which purify water from an existing borehole, are part of Solar Water Solutions (SWS) Kenya’s ‘Solar Spring Water Project’, and combine digital technology with solar solutions and science to transform water using zero energy costs and CO2 emissions. They are under the care of the community water committee, and operate from early morning until evening.
The units are fully solar-powered, independent of external energy sources thus minimizing the need for transportation of water over long distances. They also have a ‘Solar Water ATM’, which is an automatic water dispenser using Kenya’s M-Pesa revenue collection and payment system.
Hon. Emmanuel Kisangau, Minister for Water in Kitui County Government cuts the ribbon to mark the official commissioning of the SWS Ndauni Market Station.
The Solar Spring Water Project is one of six pilot projects implemented in partnership with the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD), and is the brainchild of Eng. Mary Njue, a long-time practising water engineer who was concerned about the plight of women and the overall community in accessing clean drinking water in rural Kitui affordably.
The journey to access clean water has been long for Kitui South residents who depend on the community borehole. While the borehole provided access to water, unfortunately it was not suitable for drinking due to its high salinity levels and other impurities. Community residents still walked 10-20kms to fetch water from the Athi River, which was also polluted.
SWS Kenya has set up units nearby the existing boreholes. Saline water is then pumped from the boreholes into a purification unit before it is pumped up to the 10,000 litre storage tanks for community purchase.
Honourable Emmanuel Kisangau draws water from the unit.
Kitui South Village Administrator, Catherine Mwania, says having access to clean drinking water has many benefits, including releasing income that was previously spent on buying drinkable jerrycans.
“In addition to the long trek, the cost of buying the water was expensive. I plan to increase the number of goats I keep and start a kitchen garden to save costs on vegetables” she says.
Before the water units were installed, community members faced challenges with cooking (heavy minerals in the water meant staples like maize and beans did not cook properly), children with dry and itchy skin, heavy soap use to clean clothes, and many complaints of stomach pains.
Nduani Market is the third water desalination unit to be launched this year. Residents from nearby Mwakini Community have been using the same technology for a number of weeks, and can attest to the changes.
Michael Mutuku, Chairman of the Water Committee in Mwakini Community says they are very pleased. “We can enjoy properly cooked food and can drink clean water. Water is life and without it there is nothing much we can do.”
The Solar Springs team are monitoring the pilot sites they are implementing units at in partnership with the DFCD, and will continue to assess for continuous improvement.
Project Manager, Tom Kemboi, says the project represents a historical moment for the region, and that cooperation between multiple partners is working well.
Honourable Emmanuel Kisangau is flanked by Ms. Mary Njue SWS CEO and Honourable Peter Mwikya, MCA Kitui South to a toast with the community members after the launch.
How the units work
The unique proprietary technology enables direct use of solar power obtained from photovoltaic panels, with no need for expensive and harmful batteries or diesel, in desalinating sea or saline borehole water, while the water feed into the reverse osmosis system can be fluctuating according to the obtained solar irradiance.
In addition, the plants have a Solar Water ATM (an automatic water dispenser using M-Pesa revenue collection and payment system) which is a business opportunity for infrastructure investors, water vendors and municipalities to build water infrastructure in rural areas where there is no water infrastructure.
About the project
In 2017, Solar Water Solutions (Kenya) (SWSK) – partnered with SWS Finland to supply water purification units in Kenya to create sustainable clean water in environments where access to water is scarce or non-existent.
Solar Springs Ltd was formed to address the interest of the partners (Climate Fund Managers, Epicenter and Solar Water Lease BV in the Netherlands). Following several studies in the county, Climate Fund Managers onboarded an investor, the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD), a project within SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.
As the project approaches graduation, there is a proposed USD 13 million equity investment by Climate Fund Managers to ensure a wider reach of clean desalinised water to over 200 villages. This will give more than 250,000 people access to clean and safe drinking water.
Written by: Rosemary Nzuki, DFCD Africa Communications Advisor; and Emily Elliott, Global Advocacy and Communications Advisor