Better, reliable electricity only way to guarantee improved productivity

Rural areas are disadvantaged in terms of energy. They are often not connected to electricity grids and their remoteness makes it expensive to extend infrastructure to serve them.

Without electricity, smallholder farmers and rural small enterprises face barriers in adopting new technology and linking to markets and modern value chains that would allow them to grow their businesses and improve livelihoods.

This is why efforts by the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation in developing renewable energy will have far reaching benefits for these rural areas. It is known that off-grid renewable energy sources such as wind farms and solar power can deliver cheaper and cleaner power than grid connections. The renewable energy sector also creates jobs and brings a host of social benefits.

At the national level, adequate, affordable, and reliable electricity supply will spur growth to the investments in health and education guided by Kenya’s Vision 2030 to help improve living standards. Indeed, achievement of the Big Four Agenda - enhanced manufacturing, food security and nutrition, universal health coverage, affordable housing- is dependent on adequate energy supply.

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Various national electrification projects that have been undertaken by Kenya targeting low-income households in the rural areas continue to run this course. Indeed, the national access rate has grown steadily from a low of 32 percent in 2013 to 75 per cent currently due to accelerated investment in the transmission distribution and network as well as increased investment in renewable energy generation.

Driving businesses

Arguably, efforts by Government in promoting the use of renewable energy sources; small hydros, wind, solar, biomass and hybrid systems, taking into consideration specific needs of certain areas, is the way to go.

This is why focus on completing the 26 solar mini grid stations under construction to power Wajir, Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera and Garissa will help in achieving the universal access target.

These efforts and many more explain why Kenya has been listed among countries where gains have been made in ensuring more citizens access electricity for lighting, cooking and driving businesses. Decentralised renewable energy has emerged as an important avenue for addressing electricity challenges.

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Viable and reliable electricity services result in increased productivity in agriculture and labor, improvement in the delivery of health and education, access to communications (radio, telephone, television, and mobile telephone), improved lighting, facilitating the use of time and energy-saving mills, motors, and pumps and increasing public safety through outdoor lighting.

Under President Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda, rural electrification and power service reforms are high development priorities for the growth of manufacturing sector. The current state of energy services could significantly impede Kenya’s economic growth on a national scale.

This realisation, along with Kenya’s gradual economic upswing, has brought the depressed state of energy service providers into the forefront of energy sector reforms. And more is still needed to make benefits felt across board.

Power plant

Kenya, for example, should prioritise the development of ‘solar cities’, adopting a nationwide approach that overcomes the hurdles which exist and facilitate investment. Egypt is working to create the Benban Solar Park, which will be the largest solar power installation in the world and will produce enough electricity to power one million homes.

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In Kenya, the Garissa solar plant implemented by Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation shows that Kenya can do it. This being the first time that Kenya has developed a major solar power plant to harness its abundant solar energy resource means that it can be replicated across the country. This will eventually diversify the power generation mix, reduce energy costs and spur development.

While the connection challenge seems to be addressed, the quality of supply need to be checked in most rural areas where electricity goes off, at times for three consecutive days. In fact, translating investments in connections to sustained use of electricity hinges on efforts to improve supply and service quality. Beyond the issues of affordability and supply outages, which discourage the expansion and proliferation of enterprises, there is need to ensure that networks continuously have the capacity to support non-household uses.

Without doubt, there has been substantial investment in the physical electricity infrastructure of the country in the last few years. Successes in electrification and electricity services can be achieved by boldly confronting the difficulties that have incapacitated the power sector for decades and by adopting a multi-pronged approach to re-vitalizing energy services in Kenya.

Prof Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at University of [email protected]

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Rural ElectrificationRenewable Energy