On an overcast Monday morning this week, local and international experts in renewable energy struck confident poses as they discussed the benefits of renewable energy.
They were at the premises of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Windy Ridge, Karen, Nairobi.
There is a reason they chose this compound for their morning pep talk: The Catholic order has installed an elaborate solar power system that runs the entire complex. It also helps power a neighbouring health centre.
There is more. In a separate yard are several cars hooked to electrical charging ports, eliminating the need for internal combustion engines blamed for carbon emissions around the globe.
You can install such a charging port in your house, where just like your cell phone or laptop computer, you can charge your car by turning on the electrical switch.
Welcome to the era of smart infrastructure. As natural resources dwindle, countries around the world will have no option but to integrate such infrastructure.
“This is not the future. It is happening now,” said Knights Energy's Francis Romano. The firm has spearheaded the installation of numerous solar hybrid mini grids and eco hubs in the country.
Romano said this technology will be used so extensively that it will be possible to power your house from your electric car.
“Imagine charging your car from an office port and at a lower tariff. If you are using your car just for the home-office commute, it is possible to have enough electrical power that can be connected to your home in case of power failure from the main grid,” said Romano.
Use of electric cars for urban mobility takes up 30 per cent of energy in comparison to conventional vehicles using fossil fuels.
“Such mobility solutions will require little maintenance, thus enhancing urban transport. Fossil-fuelled vehicles burn fuel in traffic jams while electric vehicles charge themselves as they go downhill. Policy makers need to consider such factors,” said Romano.
Thilo Vogeler, head of competence centre for energy and environment at the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Kenya, said such smart energy technology is a means of combating climate change, protecting the environment and creating smart lifestyles even in Kenya’s rural areas.
Through the German Embassy Green Economy Cycle, Vogeler said, the measures also improve air quality, combat greenhouse gas emissions and efficiently utilise Kenya’s electricity capacities.
“The adoption of such renewable technology in the country is an opportunity for more young Kenyans to be trained as qualified technicians and assist in the installation process. We are working with several technical and vocational training institutions to meet such needs,” he said.
His home country, Germany, is among those in Europe that have made big strides in the use of renewable energy. In the 1990s, Germany had a five per cent renewable energy penetration rate, but as of last year, this had risen to 38 per cent. The country has an ambitious goal to phase out nuclear energy by next year.
However, the question remains: If such technology contributes to increased efficiencies and massive savings, why are we not adopting such sustainable solutions wholly?
“It is all about educating our people on the need to use renewable sources of energy,” says Musau Kimeu, a green architect and a renowned proponent of sustainable built-environment practices in Kenya. “We live in a country with inexhaustible renewable resources such as solar. It all requires willing persons to instal such technology.”
Kimeu says Kenyans have relied on non-renewable energy sources for so long that a change in mindset is vital if the country is to succeed in embracing renewable energy. Those willing to change, he says, will see the benefits of going, green especially in energy use. Those reluctant to change, he adds, could end up paying dearly.
But change, he says, is happening. He cites the recent directive by the Energy Regulatory Commission that required owners of large residential homes to install solar water heaters if their daily hot water needs exceeds 100 litres. Defaulters risk jail term or a Sh1 million fine.
Kimeu, however, says such policy statements should be followed by incentives such as zero-rating some of the components required in the renewable energy business.
“Many components of renewable technology are sourced from outside the country. The government can remove or reduce the taxes imposed upon such items and encourage many more to take up such technology in their homes,” he says.
In a report released this week, global firm KPMG International says competition for new technologies is one of the 10 key emerging trends that will drive infrastructure this year.
The report talks of nations adopting renewable projects as the costs of solar and wind turbines continue to tumble.
“We are seeing a massive pipeline of renewable projects emerge around the world as the price of solar and wind turbines continues to fall, and as (most) governments target ‘decarbonisation’ as a policy priority,” says the report.