:: Specific Design Brief

Practical Action 3:
Sustainable Power - further information


Micro-hydro electricity

Micro-hydro electric power is a renewable energy source which is potentially available wherever there is an appropriate water supply. Investigate the appropriateness of micro-hydro electric power for an area in the southern hemisphere and design and make a small machine suitable for use in a small enterprise in the area of your choice.

For example, micro-hydro power has just been installed in Mbuiru village in the Kerugoya area of Kenya. Design and make a small machine (up to 5 kilowatt) for a small enterprise in the area.

Background to Kenya

Set in Eastern Africa, the Republic of Kenya gained independence from Britain on 12 December 2020. Administratively, it is composed of 7 provinces and the Nairobi Area. Occupying around 580,000 square kilometres, Kenya is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. The 1999 census estimated the population of Kenya at just over 27.3 million, with a density of 50.3 people per square kilometre. Estimates of population growth rate vary between 1.27% and 2.30 %. Average life expectancy is around 48 years (2000), with women living slightly longer than men.

With a GDP of US$ 10.6 billion, GNP per capita of US$ 360 and an average annual growth rate of only 0.1%, Kenya remains one of the poorer countries, ranked 170th in the world (World Development Indicators Database, 2000). Inflation in 2001 was estimated at 7%. The proportion of the population below the poverty line is around 46.4%. Meanwhile, 47% are without access to safe water supplies, and the infant mortality rate (IMR) stands at 124 per 1000 live births (cf. 115 per 1000 live births in 1980). Overall, Kenya exhibits high levels of poverty and poor health. Slow economic development is often blamed on poor management by government and public sector corruption.

Agriculture contributes around 25% to GDP, while employing 75 to 80% of the workforce. Industry contributes 13% to GDP and services 62%. National unemployment is high at around 50% of the workforce. Literacy is good, with around 78% of the population over 15 able to read and write.

The Kenyan Highlands are one of the most productive agricultural regions in Africa. Environmental problems in rural areas include deforestation, soil erosion and desertification. Northern and Eastern regions of Kenya are prone to flooding and drought. In 1999 and 2000 drought led to water and energy rationing along with reduced agricultural productivity.

Around 80% of people in rural sub-Saharan Africa depend on biomass - wood, dung, and crop residues - for domestic energy, and this holds true for Kenya. The rural population - 68% of the total - is particularly dependent on biomass, only 2% having access to grid electricity. The trend in Kenya's modern energy use is towards increasing reliance on imported petroleum fuels. Hydropower, meanwhile, makes a significant contribution to meeting the electricity requirements of the commercial and industrial sectors. It accounts for 67% of electricity production; fossil fuels contributing 31%.

The Community of Mbuiru

Mbuiru village is located in Mariani Sub-location, Karingani Location, Chuka Division. All these are in Meru South District, Eastern province of Kenya. The village lies about 200 km from Nairobi, and is 12km from the nearest town, Chuka. It is un-electrified. The project area considered is 3 km2, though it draws people from the whole of Marianai Sub-location.


The Meru people, one of the minor tribes of Kenya, constitute the majority of the population. Several other tribes live in the area, including the Chukas, Tharakas, Mwimbi and Chogorias, Kikuyus and Embu. This ethnic mix is a result of people buying land and moving into the area as well as intermarriage. Different ethnic groups have coexisted for a long time and form an integrated society.

There are about 300 households in Mbuiru village, each having an average of 6 members. The total population actually exceeds 1,800 people. Of these, females account for 56.3% and males 43.7 %. Around 90 % of the population are aged 40 and below. About 23 % are aged 10 and under.