Our blog series, Humans of Clean Energy, focuses on clean energy pioneers in the developing world and the customers they serve. The series is as part of an ongoing WRI research project to explore the social and environmental impacts of clean energy entrepreneurs.
Joyce Onyino runs a six-room private health clinic in western Kenya’s Vihiga county, mainly providing medical services to women and children. Her clinic is connected to the grid, but power outages occur frequently. She’s had to close it numerous times and even deliver babies in the dark.
So when Population Services Kenya asked Onyino about procuring a rooftop solar system in 2016, she agreed. Onyino’s clinic is one of 23 in the Tunza Family Health Network that installed renewable energy with help from Population Services Kenya, which works with clinics to improve their clinical and business operations. The clinics now have consistent access to electricity from solar and battery backup systems. And with the renewable energy and support from Population Services Kenya, they have also improved their business performance.
Reliable Clean Energy Improves Remote Health Clinics’ Business Operations
Onyino purchased her solar system for about $2,500. She made a 10 percent down payment, and Population Services Kenya provided her with a 24-month loan. Since she put the solar system to use, Onyino’s ability to keep the clinic running has continuously brought her more patients. It took her only 18 months to pay back the loan, and she now fully owns the solar system as part of her assets. Onyino has already secured another loan from KCB, the country’s largest commercial bank, which she is using to expand her clinic by another three rooms and add modern equipment. It is unusual for women entrepreneurs to get loans, Onyino said. Banks need collateral, and in Kenya, assets are typically owned by men.
Onyino isn’t alone in her positive experience with renewable energy. Having a continuous electricity supply generated considerable business outcomes in the 10 clinics we visited in and around Nairobi and Kisumu. For one, using solar allowed all the clinics to substantially reduce their use of costly diesel and kerosene. Energy costs, typically a large part of clinics’ overhead, dropped 20 to 50 percent after the installation of the solar systems. Clinic owners are happy they’re saving money through reduced fuel costs, and that their surroundings are cleaner and quieter. They are also able to serve a larger number of patients, which has increased their incomes.
The quality of healthcare has also improved. Clinics now remain open longer. Several of them have installed solar-powered fridges to store vaccines, resulting in new and better services for patients.
Vaccine storage is much more reliable with solar-powered refrigerators. Photo by Chen Chen/WRI
Business Support Helps Clinics Maximize the Benefits of Energy Access
Population Services Kenya has provided substantial support for the clinics. Their traditional business advisory services include an introduction to business basics, suggestions on marketing and operations, and automating data documentation and record-keeping. Since its renewable energy pilot projects, the organization is now starting to offer as part of its services support for buying and using solar systems. Staff have realized that the best management principles are less effective without reliable energy. Clinics realize that they need support in using sophisticated solar systems in the best possible way.
Integrating energy solutions into Population Services Kenya’s business services package helps improve health clinics’ overall effectiveness. Here’s how it works:
Business advisors help identify whether investing in a renewable energy system is worthwhile for individual clinics. Large upfront costs of solar or battery backup systems may create anxiety for clinic owners, especially when the benefits are uncertain. By identifying costs and benefits, advisors help clinic owners make informed decisions.
Once clinic owners decide to pursue renewable energy, advisors provide support on how to use the system and maximize its efficiency. They answer questions such as how to allocate power loads or the best time to charge batteries, so that clinicians see bigger economic returns.
Businesses advisors provide software for record-keeping. By documenting facilities’ daily operations, including costs and benefits associated with each appliance’s energy use, clinicians can track and optimize electricity use.
Owning energy assets is an opportunity to improve the bankability of clinics. Population Services Kenya provides financial planning to help clinic owners use their new power systems to improve their businesses’ financial health in both the short and long terms. This is especially important for women clinicians to get access to loans.
Onyino has now started expanding her services, focusing on quality maternity and infant care. The new three-room maternity unit is better lit and organized. She is considering upgrading her solar system to power more appliances, such as boilers and baby warmers. Reliable, clean energy has been crucial to improving her medical services. Her story showcases just how important it is to integrate energy access planning with business development.
This blog post is co-authored with Rita Mwachandi, senior business manager of Population Services Kenya.