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Small hydro electrifies rural Kenya

Magiro Power is a small hydropower company located in Muranga County just to the north of the capital Nairobi in central Kenya.

This interview was originally published in African Power & Energy Elites 2021.

The company is the brainchild of the young Kenyan entrepreneur John Magiro, who is on a mission to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable access to off-grid electricity with small hydropower plants. Magiro grew up in a small rural farming community without access to electricity. The nearest pole was 15km away and the national grid connection costs were beyond the means of most in the community. Seeing the struggles his family and others were undergoing, at the age of 18 years he decided to build a micro-hydropower plant in the Gondo river, drawing on everyday items including a dynamo and bicycle wheel rim.

The so-called Gitugu Hydropower Plant grew and around 2015-16, after having connected his first 75 customers, Magiro began to attract wider attention. With support from organisations such as WWF, Kenya’s National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) and Switch Africa, he was able to scale-up the plant from the initial 7.5kW and connect more customers by expanding what had become an 8km mini-grid.

In time, this led to the formation of a partnership with the Belgiumbased small to mid-size hydropower developer Hydrobox, with theirlocal branch Hydrobox Kenya. Through this he was able to upgrade the technology into a commercially viable plant with an installed capacity of 16kW. To date, Magiro is a 50% subsidiary of Hydrobox Kenya.

Between 2018 and 2019, Magiro also acquired two other nearby off-grid rural electrification hydro projects that had stalled; namely the Kiawambogo and Kahinduini projects. These currently have installed capacities of 18kW and 26kW respectively, with plans to upgrade the Kahinduini power plant to 60kW and the Kiawambogo power plant to 50kW during the course of 2021.

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