Four shops of energy items line up the main road in Kitengela, a fast-growing residential and commercial hub, on the south of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
The shops are in close proximity to each other but this does not seem to bother the owners, as none is eating into the market of the other.
They have co-existed for the last three years and others have come up in the vicinity as the market for energy items that include those powered by solar and those recharged using electricity grows in the suburb and in others across Nairobi and the east African nation.
Among the popular energy products Kenyan traders sell are outdoor and indoor lights, lamps, torches, chargers, batteries, bulbs, water heaters and solar panels.
All the energy items are sourced from China in a booming business that is rising as prices fall, encouraging Kenyans to embrace micro energy systems.
“Business is there, that is why you are seeing many shops coming up. People are buying solar items and rechargeable gadgets in particular,” Anthony Kuria, who runs one of the energy items shops in Kitengela, said recently.
Chinese made solar security lights are among the fastest moving products in the market, according to Kuria.
Just as many other Chinese-made energy products, prices of the gadgets have declined significantly in the last two years.
From a high of 8,000 shillings for 50 watts of light, one now buys 100 watts of light for the same amount, said Kuria.
Similarly, prices of other energy items have fallen in a similar fashion thus appealing to the bottom segment of the Kenyan market, some who have no access to electricity.
These include poor households in slums and rural areas that mainly relied on kerosene for lighting, small traders and shopkeepers.
“Thanks to my rechargeable light, I am able to sell for longer hours at night,” said Caroline Musya, who runs a roadside vegetable stall in Nairobi.
Musya normally opens her stall from 5:00 p.m., targeting people returning home from work.
Without the light, she would only work until 7:30 p.m., but with the source of light, she goes until 9:00 p.m.
Thousands of other small traders like Musya have the Chinese rechargeable electric and solar lights to thank for extended business hours.
It is a similar case for millions of households in Kenya who would switch to using kerosene lights or candles in times of blackouts.
While some traders import the gadgets directly from China, others source them locally from importers.
River Road and Luthuli Avenue, business streets in downtown Nairobi, host dozens of Chinese-made energy items wholesale shops from where small traders source.
Kwame Owino, the chief executive of Institute of Economic Affairs, a Kenyan think tank, during a recent webinar said search for alternative energy sources in Kenya boils down to economics.
According to him, Kenya’s power system is one of the most-expensive in the world when compared to incomes, thus, many are looking for alternatives and Chinese energy items are offering them.
Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer in Nairobi, noted that Chinese energy items have replaced those from western countries and they are popular because they appeal to all economic segments of the society creating business for traders.
Nationally, Kenya has also embraced solar energy, with the east African nation in 2019 launching a solar plant in Garissa town constructed by a Chinese company.