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Blackout: Who does what in the power distribution chain

 Nairobi at night on August 25, 2023, during the power blackout. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The power outage that was experienced on Friday and Saturday has resulted in a blame game, with Kenya Power blaming a technical hitch at the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant. 

The power producer which has its plant in Marsabit County has refuted these claims and instead pointed at other players, noting that its plant had to shut down following an overvoltage from the national electricity grid.

Kenya Power had said the outage was due to the loss of 270MW from Lake Turkana Wind Power Plant (LTWP), which had triggered an imbalance in the power system and tripped all other main generating power stations.

LTWP however noted it had been “forced to stop generation following an overvoltage situation in the national grid which, to avoid extreme damage, causes the wind power plant to automatically switch off.”

While Kenya Power has always taken the heat for the failings of the industry, there are numerous other players who could equally be at fault. These various players however never interact with the public, with Kenya Power the face of the industry to Kenyans, including the one that collects revenues and redistributes to every other company.

The industry can be said to start at the power production stage and different players ensure it gets to homes and premises across the country and also in a manner that can be consumed by consumers’ appliances. 

Kenya Power buys electricity from generators and moves it through transmission infrastructure owned by Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco). It is then stepped down to the electricity distribution network owned by Kenya Power and then onto the premises of consumers.

Kenya Power bought electricity from more than 28 power producers last year. These include KenGen, which accounted for more than 62 per cent of the power that was consumed in the country over the year to June 2022, according to Kenya Power data. 

The state-owned power producer has the largest fleet of power generating plants, mostly geothermal and hydro, and has a total installed capacity of 1,904MW.

Other major power producers include the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) plant, which was the second largest power producer after Kengen and supplied 1.573 gigawatt hours (GWh) or 12 per cent of the electricity that Kenya Power bought from producers in the year to June 2022.

OrPower, which generates electricity using geothermal at Olkaria, was the third largest supplier. The power producers also include the controversial thermal players, which generate electricity using heavy fuel oil, which is a cost-borne consumer and has been blamed for sustaining the high cost of electricity prices in the country.

The electricity generated by these producers spread across the country is then transported through high-voltage transmission lines that are owned and operated by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco).

Generating plant failure

While clarity is yet to emerge as to what caused the outage last weekend, other major blackouts have been due to failure by generating plants owned by different power producers as well as major transmission lines that are owned by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco).

In previous instances where there have been major power outages, the cause has been the breakdown in this transmission infrastructure. In January 2022 the collapse of transmission towers near Suswa brought down the Loiyangalani–Suswa resulting in the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant being unable to feed the electricity grid. The line is operated by Ketraco.

At the time, there was also damage on the Kiambere-Dandora line which is operated by Kenya Power and meant power from the hydro dams could not be distributed. 

Once Ketraco’s infrastructure transmits the electricity from the power producers, Kenya Power takes over the distribution and retail, which it does through mid and low-voltage power lines.

Other players in the power production and distribution chain in the country include the Geothermal Development Company (GDC), which is charged with the exploration and development of geothermal resources. It thereafter selects power producers to build power plants using the geothermal steam it has developed.

There is also the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) which regulates the various electricity sub-sectors from production to retail.

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