Climate change expert Andreas Kraemer on Kenya's options to generate cheap electricity
SEE ALSO :Nakuru Airport plans near take-offWith wind power, there are two philosophies. One is to put the wind turbines where the wind is strong and steady, and then to transport the wind power to wherever it is needed. The other is to put the wind turbines near where the power is needed, which may lower the wind-power harvest but saves on the transmission cost. Kenya may have moved too far in one direction, especially as the power grid has to be strengthened or even yet to be built. Germany, which is successful in integrating solar and wind power into an electricity system designed to supply power to industry, has a mixture: First, wind turbines were built a few at a time, village by village, and later in large wind parks, some of them off-shore in the North Sea. The first solar panels were installed on roof-tops to supply the houses below. Large solar farms occupying whole fields only came later. Kenya is currently building a coal plant near Lamu, a Unesco Heritage town on the Indian Ocean. Is the coal plant viable, even though Europe is shutting down most of its coal plants? The builders of coal-fired power plants make their profit during the building phase, and their involvement is no guarantee that the project is economically viable. Not only in Europe, but also in the US, coal-fired power plants are being shut down, because they cannot compete with ever-cheaper solar and wind power. China and India are also cancelling coal-fired power plants even after construction has begun. Kenya risks being burdened by a large, costly plant that is uneconomic to run. This being quite obvious, questions should be asked about the motives of the decision-makers in government. What lessons can Kenya learn from China on the production of coal energy and what are the possible pitfalls as well? There are no “clean coal plants” in China or anywhere else. Coal is dirty from mining to the emissions of pollutants into the air, the water and into the ground. The emissions of dust and mercury, for instance, result in increased health costs for the population in the region, and the carbon emissions contribute to the overheating of the planet, the acidification of the ocean, and sea-level rise. The new coal plant would contribute to the drowning of the Lamu Archipelago by the rising sea. China is halting the building of nuclear and coal plants and is increasing the build-up of solar and wind power. That goes hand-in-hand with a shift to electric cars. The batteries of the cars add to the power storage capacity, and this helps even out the natural fluctuations of wind and solar power. The danger that Kenya should avoid is building a dinosaur plant that has no prospect of earning back the initial cost and would harm the health of the nation and destroy the very environment that brings in steady revenue from tourism.