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Prioritise renewable energy, Kenya Power

COMMENTARY
By David Karani | January 8th 2021

The world is becoming more cognisant of the need to shift to renewable energy.  Clean and renewable energy is such a priority that the United Nations has dedicated an entire development goal to the realisation of clean energy.

Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) focuses on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Use of renewable and efficient energy sources contributes to mitigation of the climate crisis we face. 

The first quarter of 2020 saw the global renewable energy generation jump to 28 per cent from 26 per cent in 2019. This trajectory is expected to be at 45 per cent by 2040. Kenya is on the right track as far as installed capacity is concerned. She leads Africa in production of renewable energy, with an estimated 70 per cent of her electricity generated from clean sources.

Kenya Power, owing to a decline in demand occasioned by the Covid-19 crisis, has had to reduce its supply from a possible 2,800MW to 1,926MW, even hitting a record low of 1,765MW at the onset of the pandemic following a freeze on various economic sectors.

This would have had some impact on customers’ pockets had the electricity mix reduced reliance on burning fossil fuels and instead focused on distributing renewable energy. When paired with reduced carbon emissions, the switch to green energy should be a no-brainer.

The potential for trading carbon credits earned by renewable electricity generators present an additional revenue stream that Kenya can explore. With Kenya Power recently recording its first loss in 17 years, there is need to change the situation. Costs that contribute to the parastatal’s losses are often passed on to consumers.

A switch from over-reliance on thermal energy would result in savings for Kenya Power and, in turn, electricity consumers. As Kenya’s sole distributor, Kenya Power chooses who to buy electricity from, and enjoys a demand-supply imbalance. Stating, therefore, that it was taken advantage of by independent power producers – as was implied in a recent article in one of the local dailies – is simply to misconstrue the situation.

Last year, Kenya entered into a bilateral agreement with Ethiopia to import 200MW in 2020 as a measure to reduce reliance on expensive thermal energy. Imports from Uganda were also reportedly increased despite the commissioning of additional renewable energy plants in Kenya last year.

In what seems like a further misstep, there is a push for a 1,050MW coal-fired plant in the Unesco-protected Lamu archipelago that will further exacerbate the country’s oversupply woes. The planned coal-powered project has been on hold, since a court ordered developers to carry out further environmental impact assessment.

Kenyans have been burdened with the ever-increasing cost of electricity from fossil fuels. KenGen, the partly State-owned producer, insists that diesel generators, which account for 253MW on the national grid, are necessary to bridge the gap when the 819.9MW of hydroelectricity are affected by long dry spells.

The cost of electricity generation from diesel depends on cost of oil. Judging from the pump prices, consumers are shouldering the financial burden of over-reliance on electricity from fossil fuels. Aside from the financial cost of oil, the environmental cost of diesel-fired plants must also be considered, since they emit thousands of tonnes of GHGs.

Cleaner electricity

One simply cannot help but notice the incongruence when looking at the facts, vis-a-vis Kenya’s one-time goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020, as reported by World Economic Forum in 2018.

Not all is lost. Kenya enjoys a renewable energy production rate three times higher than global average. This will prove useful when transmission lines and electricity export agreements with her neighbours are finally settled. Kenya will sell cheaper and cleaner electricity while maintaining the potential to trade carbon credits for cleaner energy.

Ignoring renewable energy will lead Kenya to rely on thermal or coal-fired plants that will accelerate climate change and catastrophic damage to agriculture and tourism; or seasonal hydropower, which might send the country back to days of frequent blackouts when rains fail. The government should prioritise green energy for positive environmental impact and economic potential that cheaper electricity presents.

Mr Karani is an energy communications consultant

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