Solar power is emerging as a source of cheap energy in Kenya’s push for alternative energy sources.
Large-scale manufacturers and industries, who consume over 80 per cent of Kenya’s power, have been forced to resort to costly strategies like diesel-powered generators when the grid goes down to keep businesses running.
So why the cautious uptake of solar technology in Kenya, especially with the International Energy Association forecasting that solar could be the top source of electricity by 2050?
In Kenya, the solar photovoltaic market is still frustratingly riddled with misunderstanding and suspicion among potential consumers.
Pertinent issues arise in the country’s solar sector. Why, in contrast to well-marketed renewable sectors like wind and geothermal, the solar industry and its policy has been mired in confusion?
The government’s ambitious plan to inject 5,000MW into the grid by 2017, and constant promises of cutting the cost of electricity as a result, has led stakeholders to take a wait-and-see approach before committing investments in other sources of energy. Also, outdated evidence showing that some sources are more cost competitive than solar had been fronted in the market.
However, there are signs of change, as analysts, with access to up-to-date market intelligence, have started lobbying for the development of solar projects in the country.
The government, through its 2009 Rural Electrification Master Plan, has stimulated the adoption of off-grid solar production in the country.
Secondly, investors are apprehensive of the quality and history of suppliers pitching solar proposals. While reliable solar companies have been working on the global stage for years, Kenya has been plagued by small-scale operators whose inexperience has tarnished the reputation of solar.
With highly reputable solar players establishing themselves in Kenya, there is no longer any need for solar customers to tolerate inflated prices, mediocre workmanship and average maintenance post-construction.
At minimum, it is key that engineering, procurement and construction contractors have relevant licences from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to operate and instal commercial scale solar. Then there is gross misconception that solar is costly. While cost is always going to be major factor, going for the cheapest options and disregarding the credit rating of the system provider makes the consumer vulnerable to problems that may arise in future.
The good news is that there are financiers and other institutions willing to offer workable solutions for projects.
Kenya Power not only understands solar but has been quick to adapt. The ERC has also been fantastic in helping create frameworks for expanding the rollout of solar.
More rural areas are getting connected to the grid. If the rate of connection matches or supersedes the rate of power generation, it could push up the cost of grid energy.
Lastly, the price of solar technology is set to keep falling.