Renewable Energy for Kenya

By Erik Nordman

Fullbright Scholar, Dr. Erik Nordman will be spending the school year in Kenya, helping to develop renewable energy technologies.

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I am very excited to be spending my sabbatical year at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. I received a Fulbright Scholar grant to teach in Kenyatta’s Environmental Studies and Community Development department and conduct research on renewable energy options at Kenyan tea farms.

My wife and two children (ages 8 and 5) have joined me here for the year. The university has generously provided a guesthouse for us right on campus and the kids will attend an international school near the university. My wife, Jennifer, will take some graduate classes in Kenyatta’s early childhood education and education psychology programs.

I will be teaching two courses this year: environmental economics, and evaluation and energy for sustainable development. I will also mentor graduate and undergraduate students in both the environmental studies program and the energy engineering program.

There are many research opportunities here as well. Energy poverty is a serious issue in Kenya, where about half of the population, and 95 percent of rural residents, do not have access to electricity or modern cooking fuels. The lack of energy services, especially clean ones, is a barrier to development. For example, it limits educational opportunities (it is hard to read in the dark) and indoor air pollution from cooking has serious health consequences, particularly for women and children.

In addition to the outstanding faculty at Kenyatta University, Nairobi hosts the United Nations Environment Programme, World Agroforestry Center, and the brand-new Climate Innovations Center sponsored by the World Bank. I hope to use this sabbatical year to collaborate with Kenyatta University colleagues and connect with the larger community of researchers in Nairobi. I look at this year as just the beginning of a lifelong collaboration with the university and other programs here in the field of renewable energy.

Our first two weeks here have been tremendously rewarding. Our neighbors have been very warm and welcoming, and, above all, very interesting. Most of our neighbors are Kenyatta professors and many have fascinating life stories. One neighbor, a professor of exercise science, won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympic Games in the 800-meter run. Another neighbor earned a doctorate at my alma mater, Syracuse University (albeit 30 years earlier). Our kids have already made friends with the neighborhood’s many children. We took a day trip to Nairobi National Park and saw many African animals in their native habitat, including lions, giraffes, rhinos, Cape buffaloes, ostriches, and many species of antelope. It was an amazing experience for us all. We look forward to exploring more of Kenya, including the highlands and the coast, eating more delicious food, and meeting new friends and colleagues.

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