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What does the term ‘renewable energy’ mean?

By Peter Muiruri | January 14th 2016

After reading this column for some time, a friend asked me to explain to him, “like a two-year old”, what constitutes renewable energy.

Apparently, he has come across a number of terminologies that have been used interchangeably in the same article to refer to the same thing.

President Uhuru Kenyatta aboard an excavator commissions works during the official ground breaking ceremony of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project at Sarima, Marsabit County. [Photo: PSCU]

Clean energy, sustainable energy sources and green energy. For his benefit and others, let us break it down.

First, all these terms refer to energy that comes from sources that are not permanently depleted by their use. In other words, they are naturally renewable, like the sun or wind.

We can harness their power and be sure that our great grandchildren will still extract energy from the same sources. By contrast, non-renewable sources like fossil fuels have a sell-by date. The more we exploit them, the more they dwindle.

They are not sustainable. In addition, fossil fuels leave more carbon footprints, thus polluting the environment more than any other sources of energy. You must also burn them to produce energy. Talk of burning fuel to get fuel!


Now that we are over the first hurdle, where then can we get such renewable energy? Over the years, Kenya has produced the bulk of her energy from the hydro-electric stations along major rivers.

So water is among the sources of renewable energy. Unless water levels in these rivers get very low, we are sure that we can exploit this form of energy for a long time.

Then there is wind. Again, Kenya is setting the pace in this sector through the new Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Sarima, Marsabit.

The Sh70 billion project will inject 310 megawatts to the grid, or 20 per cent of the current installed capacity. Sitting on 4,000 acres, the project will be the largest single private investment in the country.

We cannot talk about renewable energy without talking about solar power.

Lying in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya is well positioned to take advantage of a resource that has been there before us and will continue to be there long after we are gone.

Other sources of renewable energy are underground sources such as geothermal, the tides and waves of the sea and certain plants.

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