Research and innovation is key to achieving a sustainable energy future

EPRA Director General Danel Kiptoo before the Public Investments Committee (PIC) in January 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya’s Energy Transition and Investment Plan provides the pathway through which the energy sector will contribute to the attainment of Net Zero by 2050.

The plan identifies the main decarbonisation technologies that will anchor an orderly transition to include renewables, green hydrogen, battery electric vehicles and clean cookstoves. It is therefore imperative that research and innovations in these technologies be at the core of sustainable, affordable and accessible energy.

As the world marked World Environment Day on Wednesday, the significance of research and innovation in real-world applications where clean energy technologies like solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, and energy storage systems have been developed through collaborative efforts, was apparent.

According to the commitment in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) Kenya plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 per cent, from 143 MtCO2eq by 2030 as part of her sustainable development agenda to mitigate climate change. This will involve increasing the share of renewables within the national grid's electricity generation mix and improving energy and resource efficiency across various sectors.

The NDCs indicate that Kenya is expanding its implementation of Nature-Based Solutions to address issues such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. It also encourages the uptake of cleaner, more efficient, and sustainable energy technologies to lessen dependence on fossil fuels and unsustainable biomass and introduce transportation systems that are both low-carbon and efficient.

The country now boasts of having over 3,700 registered electric vehicles with a policy in place to promote investments that will increase the uptake of e-mobility vehicles among other mobility solutions that currently run on fossil fuels. All these changes and innovations are driven by research, which is providing solutions to real-life problems. 

Thanks to research, Kenya will be among the early adopters of grid energy storage technologies in Africa, with Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) emerging as one of the most appropriate solutions. The country’s lead BESS implementing agency, Kenya Electricity Generating Company PLC (KenGen), which is currently generating 1,904MW or 65 per cent of the nation’s installed capacity, plans to put up a 100MW BESS project as part of the World Bank-funded Kenya Green and Resilient Expansion of Energy programme.

According to our research, development of BESS will allow for increased penetration of Variable Renewable Energy (Solar and Wind) capacity in Kenya’s grid by providing system support among other ancillary services.

Looking at where we are and where we plan to head in the future, the usefulness of research and innovation in the energy sector continues to take centre-stage. It is a key to bridging the gap between aspiration and achieving realities that illuminate the path forward.

That is why platforms such as the Research and Innovation Conference by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority are important in enhancing collaboration among stakeholders. By bringing together policymakers, researchers, scholars, and industry experts, the conference promotes a vital exchange of ideas. Academics present their research, while industry leaders provide valuable feedback on the feasibility and scalability of proposed research solutions. 

This year's conference themed, ‘The Energy Transition’ focuses on promoting sustainable energy access, decarbonisation, and energy market developments. By showcasing cutting-edge research and innovative solutions, the conference aims to inspire actionable strategies for building a sustainable energy future.

By analysing energy access trends, researchers have guided policymakers in crafting targeted interventions to reach underserved communities. Research on energy efficiency practices can inform policy initiatives that incentivise businesses and households to adopt energy-saving measures.  That said, embracing research and innovation is not just beneficial, it is imperative for building a sustainable energy future.

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