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Reliable power key to turning around battered economy

COMMENTARY
By Fernandes Barasa | November 21st 2020

Pandemics exert pressure on every part of a country’s economy and disrupt the way of life in societies. The upsurge of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has put many countries on an auto-pilot mode without clear indicators on when the situation could ease and pave the way for normal life.

As the virus runs riot across the globe, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, the most commonly preferred preventative measures are an experience many countries may not be comfortable implementing.

Social distancing and stay-at-home measures, touted as some of the most effective primary protocols in controlling the disease spread, are being adopted in many countries. All government departments, agencies and corporations are required to strictly adhere to the social distancing recommendations by the health authorities.

Kenyan authorities are promoting the “work-from-home policy” based on the reality that populations have access to reliable and efficient electricity to stay connected and continue working. This development re-affirms the fact that our country’s capacity in terms of power transmission network is sufficient, not just in the Covid-19 viral era, but at all other times. The nation has enough electrical power and energy to supply all connected Kenyans.

However, the national power demand in Kenya is today lower than it would have been without the Covid-19 interruption (industrials and commercials, even small businesses like barber shops and salons are operating below capacity) as Kenyans stay safe in their homes to contain the spread of the virus. Attaining this level of effectiveness in national grid is a major milestone in line with our mission at the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) to provide reliable, efficient and effective power for sustainable socio-economic development. Hospitals, medical equipment and medicines are functioning due to their access to uninterrupted electricity. We have also made significant stride in lowering losses that translate into system efficiency, lowering the risk and chances of total national black-outs. Technically, with lower national power demand, the system becomes harder to manage with rising system voltages over higher voltage lines.

Our technical and other teams are on standby to tackle any challenge that may arise to make work possible for hospitals and health services providers as they attend to critical patients with equipment that relies entirely on electricity. We have powered medical services including cold chain and refrigeration, which will ensure vulnerable populations get access to vaccines. This makes the electricity sector a critical player in efforts to flatten the Covid-19 curve and enable Kenyans resume normalcy.

We also need to peep into the post Covid-19 era. This may call for fast tracking ongoing projects such as Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu transmission line project (OLK), OlKaria – Narok so that customers in regions like Western Kenya, including Southern Nyanza have well powered recovery season. Speed of deployment for such solutions is critical in the eye of a pandemic. Off-grid decentralised renewable power can also provide an answer to this challenge for many vulnerable communities.

These energy solutions cannot only allow people in the affected areas to access the healthcare they need now, but can also be an investment into clean, sustainable energy infrastructure for the future.

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The experience gained from the Covid-19 outbreak calls for strengthening electrical energy solutions to power health facilities. The medical facilities will deal with emergencies during the pandemic and eventually distribute and administer safe therapeutics and when approved, vaccines for the virus, requiring uninterrupted cold chains. Again, we need to identify solutions for low-income households and communities currently being served by off-grid solutions (mini-grids or solar home systems) or grid connections, who will likely be unable to afford energy bills and are most at risk of being disconnected.

-  The writer is the Managing Director, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco)

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