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We must take solar energy to national grid

By Isaac Kalua | March 16th 2014

By Isaac Kalua
[email protected]

In this second week of March, I pray that you will continue gathering momentum in your respective endeavours. Go for it! And remember the words of Lupita Nyong’o that “your dreams are valid”. So no one should ever invalidate them. Over the years, my dream has been for renewable energy to become mainstream energy. We are not yet there but the journey is truly underway. Solar, wind, hydro and other forms of renewable energy are playing an increasingly bigger role in powering the world.

The Renewables 2013 Global Status Report records that in just five years, solar PV soared from below 10 GW in 2007 to just over 100 GW in 2012. This ten-fold growth is totally cool and necessary.

The world’s largest solar plant was officially commissioned in February after a four-year construction. Ivanpah Solar Power Plant is located in California’s Mojave Desert. Amongst its celebrated attributes are 356,000 mirrors and three 40-storey towers. On top of the three towers are giant boilers that use reflected rays from the mirrors to heat water to more than 1,000 degrees.

The resultant steam spins electricity generating turbines. Electricity generated can serve 140,000 California homes.  The project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 400,000 tonnes annually. It cost US$2.2 billion with some of this money coming from equity investors like Google, NRG Solar and Brightsource.

This project is built on a simple principle of tapping into the sun’s energy as much as possible so that it can generate as much electricity as possible.

Can this be replicated in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa? Why not!  Africa enjoys 51 per cent of the earth’s most concentrated sunlight, and this must be made to count. This will however not happen if the continent continues tapping into solar at micro levels.

The day that solar in Kenya will start contributing double digit percentage to the national grid is the day that solar will have started playing a decisive and sustainable macro role in Kenya’s energy needs. A few years ago, at least 220 schools in Kenya had solar generated electricity through a project that cost nearly Sh1 billion. This number has increased because of donor support.

The Kenya Government has not been left behind and has subsidised importation of solar equipment. This public sector effort must be complemented by private sector players who should lower the cost of solar equipment so that more Kenyans can access and utilise them. Government policy, civil society action and private sector initiatives must now be focused on grid solar. It is not enough for an increasing number of Kenyans in the rural areas to place solar panels on their rooftops. Rather, grid electricity must increasingly stem from solar energy.

This way, solar will gradually move from the periphery to the centre and in the process ensure that the solar strength plays a key role towards meeting energy needs of Vision 2030.


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