Biogas from waste in rural Kenya
Deforestation is ravaging rural Kenya as people strip forests for vital cooking fuel. Yet biogas, produced from animal and human waste is a viable alternative. What is lacking is training and awareness. Sky Link provides both via a network of local entrepreneurs. 200 domestic biogas plants and six large-scale ones in schools and a prison have been sold benefiting at least 5,200 people. And, as impressively, wood use has been reduced by 800 tonnes per year resulting in an estimated 1,100 tonnes a year reduction in carbon emissions.
Sky Link Innovations is a small biogas company in Kenya installing domestic and institutional biogas systems, as well as importing and selling high quality biogas accessories – e.g. cooking equipment and lamps.
Biogas systems take organic material such as animal dung into an air-tight tank, where bacteria break down the material and release biogas – a mixture of mainly methane with some carbon dioxide. The biogas can be burned as a fuel, for cooking or other purposes, and the nutrient-rich residue which remains can be used as organic compost. The biogas systems used by Sky Link are fixed-dome designs, built from brick in underground pits.
Sky Link installs 12 to 16 m3 size domestic systems which are designed to use mainly animal dung. Such a system requires the household to have between about three and eight cows. The gas is used mostly for cooking but can also be used to generate electricity.
Sky Link also installs larger systems for institutions, ranging in size from about 30 m3 for schools to 124 m3 in Meru prison. These can also process animal dung, but the main purpose of the larger ones is to manage human sewage from latrines.
The cost of a 12 m3 domestic biogas system is about US$1,850 (KSh 150,000). This is a substantial amount, but can be paid back in about four years through savings on increasingly expensive fuelwood. This time can be reduced to about three years if savings made from substituting commercial fertiliser for biogas residue are included, since these amount to about US$230 (KSh 18,600) per year for a small farm.
Households buy the construction materials and provide unskilled labour. 50% of the cost of Sky Link labour is paid on signing the contract, 30% when the work is almost completed, and the remainder when the system is fully commissioned. In this way households are able to spread the cost of buying a biogas system. Sky Link does not offer any credit to customers, but offers help to households wishing to borrow money from their local Savings and Credit Society.
Sky Link has been trading aince 2008 and is growing. In 2010 they were one of the top five East African energy SMEs in the Access to Clean Energy Challenge
. GVEP provided a grant of $35,000 to enable the company to import a bulk supply of accessories (reducing unit costs) and to contribute to the costs of a truck. Funding was also provided for an accountant to prepare financial statements and to train management in preparing monthly management accounts.
The company was the winner of the prestigious Ashden Award
and GVEP worked closely with Ashden and an advisor to improve the overall operations, strategy and sales of the business.
Skylink was profitable in its first two years, but made a loss the year it received the Ashden Award. The support provided by GVEP led to a restructuring of the ownership and management, resulting in more efficient decision-making. A strategic focus on institutional stoves, which are more profitable than domestic products, was implemented and a more disciplined sales operation implement put in place. The Company has generated new business and demonstrates generally stronger management.