Kenya asks World Bank for Sh10 billion to light up villages

Solar panels at Mageta Health center in Siaya county. [Photo:COLLINS ODUOR/Standard]
Kenya has asked the World Bank for Sh10 billion to develop small electricity-generation plants and distribution networks in remote areas.

The small networks, technically known as mini-grids, are anticipated to help cut the cost of connecting the far-flung rural areas to the main electricity grid. Such electricity-generation plants would typically harness energy from solar panels to be distributed and consumed within the respective villages and centres.

“We are negotiating with the World Bank for Sh10 billion ($100 million) for the construction of additional micro and mini-grids in off-grid areas,” said Energy Secretary Charles Keter.

He was speaking yesterday on the third day of a continuing technical conference expected to enhance connectivity to electricity in the cheapest and fastest way possible.

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Less than half of Kenya’s population lives in darkness, partly because their settlements are far from the national grid and the high cost of connectivity.

Localised electricity networks are expected to hasten the connectivity in achieving the Government’s target of 70 per cent by the end of next year, the CS added.

Too expensive

Already, Kenya has several small electricity-generation plants, several being privately-owned. For example, Hillary Chirchir is supplying electricity generated from solar energy to a village in Kericho. There are also several tiny hydro-generation units in Meru.

Participants in the conference are drawn from 20 countries including renewable energy engineers and economists who are deliberating funding options, tariffs and the legal framework relating to the mini-grids.

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World Bank Country Director Diariétou Gaye said the rural populations cut off from the electricity grid were mainly poor and often dispersed, making it too expensive to connect the individual households.

“Many of the world’s poor live in villages, which are typically too far from the main grid to be connected within the next ten years – it is simply too costly. High dispersion of rural populations also renders grid extension unfeasible,” Ms Gaye said at the conference where she pledged her agency’s support.

Electricity connectivity in Kenya is concentrated in the southern half of the country, she added, making an urgent case for the largely poor and vast northern side which includes Turkana and Mandera counties.

The huge capital outlay that is typical in such projects has limited the options for prospective generators to seek loans from lending institutions, which are cautious about providing capital to governments and businesses without strong in-country track records.

“But recently, technological and institutional innovations, as well as cost reductions have made mini-grids a more attractive option and they have begun to attract investment,” added the WB boss.

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Past studies have shown that Kenya has abundant solar energy resources. The daily average solar-power generation is estimated to be between four and six kilowatt hours per square metre, which is considered one of the best for solar electric energy production in sub-Saharan Africa.

A lengthy and complex licensing procedure has however discouraged investments in harnessing solar and other forms of energy for distribution among communities.

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