Biogas project lights households at zero cost

Kenyan households interested in biogas but struggling with the prohibitive cost of installation can now breathe easy after a project to install the biogas free of charge, but which they would later pay in electricity consumption units, now takes shape, and now seeing households save upto 70 percent of electricity related expenses.

The project being chaperoned by Takamoto Biogas, started on a rocky path after households failed to raise the installation fee the company requested. The company has since changed tact to now full cater for the entire installation process. “We started in 2011 and 2 years down the line, we have only managed four installations two in Kiambu, one in Githunguri and another in Kawangware which we blame on the high installation cost of over Sh100,000,”noted Nakami Susan a program assistant at Takamoto Biogas.

The team had initially overestimated the earnings especially from dairy farmers thinking they would be okey with the Sh100,000 initial installation cost. Even a  partnership with Equity Bank to offer loans to farmers didnt yield much, which therefore inspired new frontiers.

The latest model dubbed Pay As You Go, which is still under pilot in Githunguri area targets farmers with at least two cows but practicing zero grazing as this avails the much needed raw material for the production of biogas. The team then constructs the digester and conducts a full installation depending on the farmer’s request. The construction materials which includes sand, cement, HPV pipes, adopters among others together with the labour amounting to over Sh100,000 is footed by Takamoto.

The farmer is only required to pay a site visit fee of Sh2000 and an extra Sh8000 which guarantees him a double burner cooking gas cooker. “Rather than paying up front for a biogas system, farmers will pay only for the gas they need, when they need it while Takamoto experts maintain the biogas system ensuring that it operates at full potential. With PAYG biogas technology, there are no crippling installation fees, bank loans or failed biogas systems,” explained Nakami.  

The end structure is similar to a (septic tank) sewage pit but it has channel pipes connecting to the house and another channel directing the used waste which is also a bio fertilizer to the farm. The gas produced goes through a meter connection which counts units used by the farmer. She explained that this system only allows the farmer to pay for exact units used. The company employs technicians who maintain the digester and all the installations as well as conducting the meter reading on a weekly basis. Nakami added that a unit goes for Sh55 and so far the uptake has been impressive as over 13 installations have been achieved in two months since the takeoff of the pilot.  

Farmers experiencing the new technology, Nakami says, prefer it as it saves them the hustles of firewood and charcoal collection which they term as expensive based on a study they conducted in the area, which highlighted that households in that area spent between Sh2000-5000 on fuel compared to the highest billed household under this technology who has paid about Sh1500.

The project got a boost with Takamoto Biogas winning Grand Challenges Explorations of 2013 worth over Sh8, 000,000. The grant is an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Takamoto Biogas intends to use the money to pursue this innovative global health and development research project of Pay As You Go Biogas.

The success of the pilot in Githunguri will usher in a full scale countrywide implementation of the project and this is projected to start taking shape early next year. “We are currently taking a risk as we are not making money but we hope that in the long run, the business model will be able to generate income,” said Nakami.  The organization hopes to enjoy economies of scale by installation of biogas digesters to many households.

Biogas technology is believed to hold the key for development especially in the developing countries due to its ease of production and the environmental conservation qualities it holds. The use of biogas mitigates the environment against deforestation, pollution and delivering organic fertilizer which in turn increases yields as well as cushioning the farmer against expenditure on chemical fertilizer.

United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) noted that the production and utilisation of biogas from anaerobic digestion provides many environmental and socio-economic benefits for the society as a whole as well as for the involved farmers. To ensure its’ uptake in the society, the world body in charge of environment has supported various projects for biogas technology especially in Asia and the most outstanding being in Sindh Province of Pakistan which cost over $23,000 and currently produces 50 cubic meters of biogas, 200kgs of liquid fertilizer and 150kgs of solid fertilizer.