In late June 2023, Solar Washington talked to Maina Mumbi who shared his amazing pursuit of solar knowledge. Maina has been a member of Solar Washington for over two years and is serving on the Solar Washington Education Committee.
Solar Washington: Maina, when and why did you become interested in solar?
Maina Mumbi: In the early days of my youth, I found myself enraptured by the mystery and potential within the four simple solar water heater panels unassumingly installed behind our rented house. This technology sparked a fascination that has guided my educational and professional journey. My early interest in solar energy was nurtured by a technical high school, where I delved into electrical mechanics and automotive studies. My real passion, however, lay solely in the electrical field. This interest was further cemented in my formative years at a polytechnic institution, where I earned a diploma in electrical and electronics. The quest to understand solar energy led me to intern at a renewable energy firm in Nairobi. The Internet was still an elusive luxury during this period, and learning about renewable energy was more akin to listening to tales of a future world. Undeterred, I pursued my interest and soon worked for an electrical business around Mount Kenya, installing small but costly amorphous solar panels. (SW: Amorphous solar panels are thin, flexible solar panels that have the shape and feel of a strip of rubber.) I had the chance to indulge my interest in solar technology and gain invaluable hands-on experience as the only installer the clients trusted.
My breakthrough moment came when an unexpected opportunity presented itself when a group of students from a university in California arrived to research the performance of solar panels. I was chosen to aid them due to my established rapport with the clients. This encounter was a revelation. The equipment, the measurements, and the testing of the panels' parameters gave me an insider's perspective into the mechanics of solar energy that I had yearned for. At that moment, I realized that my knowledge, while considerable from an installer's point of view, was just the tip of the iceberg.
Motivated to dig deeper, I embarked on an educational journey to a five-week solar training in Tanzania, an opportunity that felt like a dream come true. This training was a turning point in my career.
I threw myself headlong into the solar industry, working on numerous projects across Africa, training technicians, and actively participating in developing successful Offgrid lighting projects in Kenya, Africa, and now Lighting Global.
My specific experiences with solar energy have been diverse, challenging, and deeply rewarding. One of my proudest accomplishments is being part of the development of Lighting Kenya. This project, initiated by Arne Jacobson, now a professor at Humboldt State University, has profoundly impacted off-grid lighting in the country and has evolved into an international initiative.
I have deepened my knowledge in the USA by attending Solar Energy International and Shoreline Community College.
SW: Why did you join Solar Washington and what do you expect from Solar Washington?
MM: My decision to become part of Solar Washington stems from my keen interest in contributing positively to our environment and aligning with the organization's admirable mission of promoting and advocating solar utilization in Washington State. My expectations from Solar Washington are to mingle with a community of individuals who share the same solar passion, contribute to the propagation of solar energy usage, and, together, shape a sustainable future.
SW: What is next for you regarding solar?
MM: As for the future, I am excited about the possibilities. Whether working on more hands-on projects or contributing to promoting and developing solar energy in Washington, I am eager to keep expanding my horizons.
SW: Can you share any lessons you learned during your solar experience?
MM: On reflection, my experiences have taught me several key lessons.
- First, the importance of remaining curious and never ceasing to learn
- Secondly, the power of collaboration and the incredible insights gained from working with diverse teams
- Lastly, the significance of persevering and following one's passion, even when faced with challenges.