Power imports from Uganda increase despite higher geothermal capacity, sustained rains

Kenya power officer attends a power line in Migori town on November 18, 2018. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]
The amount of power that Kenya imported from Uganda last year significantly went up despite commissioning new geothermal capacity and generating more hydroelectricity as a result of heavy rains.

Over the 10 months to October 2019, the country imported 176 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power from Uganda, a 60 per cent increase compared to 110GWh imported over a similar period in 2018, according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

The higher imports are despite KenGen having commissioned a 160-megawatt geothermal power plant at Olkaria last year. It is also against the backdrop of the rains the country experienced from May that would have boosted water levels in hydropower dams to allow for higher power production.

The country increases its reliance on imports, as well as other costly power sources such as thermal plants, to bridge the gap that occurs whenever there is a prolonged dry spell, resulting in reduced power production from hydropower dams.

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The Ministry of Energy has in the past said Kenya resorts to importing power from Uganda due to a lack of proper infrastructure to transmit cheap power from sites like Olkaria to Western Kenya.

Ease access

In the absence of imports, the region has to rely on diesel generators as the 132-kilovolt line that can take power generated from Olkaria is in no shape to transmit electricity.

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The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company is currently building a 400kV line from Olkaria to Lessos with an extension to Kisumu that is expected to ease power access for the region.

Last year, Kenya and Uganda renegotiated their terms of power trade and agreed to bring down the cost of electricity across borders. The cost of power bought from Uganda has been Sh10 per unit since June 2019, a reduction from upwards of Sh20 in the past.

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Between January and October, power consumption increased by 2.7 per cent to 7,400 GWh from 7,206GWh. The marginal growth could be a pointer to the tough economic times that businesses went through in the course of 2019, with many power-intensive firms slowing down on electricity usage.

Cement production, for instance, dropped to 3.9 million tonnes between January and August 2019, compared to over four million tonnes produced over a similar eight-month period in 2018.

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