Tea companies in rush to save on the ever-rising cost of energy

Kipkebe Limited Managing Director Silas Njibwakale inspects solar panels at the tea company's installation station. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Tea companies in Nyamira County are on a renewed strategy to reduce the high cost of production occasioned by the ever-rising prices of energy.

Multinational companies as well as the Kenya Tea Development Agency-managed tea factories that have been struggling with use of fossil energy in running machines used in the processing of tea are engaging in diverse schemes that will see them shift from over-reliance on oil energy to the use of clean and affordable power.

The main alternatives that the companies are currently exploiting include tapping solar energy, own-generated hydro-power as well as investing in wood fuel energy.

At Kipkebe Limited which is a subsidiary of Sasini PLC, the use of solar energy is fast changing the matrix of energy demands in the processing of tea in its two factories situated in Nyamira County.

The company has installed around 600 solar panels in an area of around two acres of land which are contributing 650 Kilo-watts of electricity to the energy needs of the company.

The company’s Managing Director Silas Njibwakale says the investment in solar energy is a major reprieve to the company’s burden of energy costs.

“The amount of solar energy that is generated is currently catering for around 70 per cent of our energy demands and we look forward to making it 100 per cent when we shall have upscaled our capacity of storing the energy that we tap from the sun,” Njibwakale says.

The MD says the company has been purchasing power at Sh24 per unit from Kenya Power, but with the new investment in solar energy, the company can save up to 70 per cent.

For Mogeni Tea Company, a private multi-national company, the struggle against regular power outages and the high cost of fuel used to run diesel engines used in manufacturing of tea in the factory is making business even more difficult.

However, just like other players, Mogeni Tea Company is also in the process of procuring solar energy, despite the prohibitively high cost of installation.

“Already we have contracted the provider to do installation around the factory premises. It is going to cost us around Sh80 million but we have highly considered it even if it is an alternative that can only serve during the day when there is sunlight,” Mong’are says.

Mr Mong’are says wood fuel is for now a better option for the company in running boilers that have been running on diesel.

“So far, running our boilers using wood fuel is the cheapest compared to diesel and electricity,” Mong’are says.

For solar to be a better option, Mong’are says the Government should reduce taxes or incentify investments in solar energy to make it affordable.  

At the KTDA-managed factories in both Nyamira and Kisii, the story is similar but the companies are opting for a different alternative; own-sourced hydro power electricity.

Nyakwana hydro plant, Nyamasege hydro plant

The companies spend around Sh12 and Sh20 worth of electricity for every kilo of green leaves of tea processed, according to the KTDA Board Representative for Nyamira Thadeus Mangenya.

Mangenya says the companies have spent substantive amounts of cash to invest in the production of own-sourced hydroelectric power at Nyakwana and Nyamasege Falls in Kisii County.

“Much of the electricity we need in our factories goes to withering of green leaves as well as drying besides driving other machines. With a better alternative, we can highly save on its cost,” Mangenya says.

Thomas Nyagetari, the manager of Zone 10 factories forming part of Nyamira County says the power stations will be serving about 12 factories with electricity, an investment that will save them from the ever-rising cost of energy.

Besides the cost of electricity, the reliability of power from the National grid is another factor that has quickly pushed investors in the processing industry to seek alternatives.

Mong’are, the Mogeni Tea Company MD, says frequent outages are a major hindrance in the processing of tea leaves, especially during this Elnino season, a factor that has called for more reliable sources.

“We are suffering hitches in production because of unreliable supply. But we hope for enhanced back-ups,” Mong’are says.

Njibwakale on his part says away from solving for the costly energy, meeting the UN resolution on combating global warming is another reason for the drive for clean energy.

“We also ascribe to the Sustainable Development Goals of embracing clean energy for sustainable environmental conservation,” he says.

Expectations are that the push for favourable and affordable energy options will solve for the profitability of the various entities in the current economic meltdown.