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Energy Sustainability: Anything to smile about?
By Erick Wasonga Maklago | Updated Jan 30, 2020 at 12:17 EAT
Wind Turbines (Photo/Courtesy)

Kenya’s Vision 2030 envisages the transformation of the country to becoming a newly industrialized and middle-income nation that provides its citizens with a high-quality life in a clean, secure environment.

The main enabler for the realization of our vision is a vibrant power sector that meets the electricity requirements for driving flagship projects and programs.

Intellectuals agree that energy is a key pillar for the sustainable growth of any nation. Simply said, the economy is dependent on cheap electricity. Some of the countries with gigantic economies boast of the stability of their energy sectors in terms of production and supply. This is evidenced in countries such as China, the US, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, and South Korea, just to mention a few.

From the Global Energy Architecture Performance Index, the three fundamental goals that form the basis for benchmarking energy systems include level to which a nation’s energy architecture either detracts/adds to its economic growth; the impact of supply and consumption on environmental sustainability and; the extent of security, accessibility, and diversification of power supply.

Relative to the year 2017, statistics in Kenya’s energy sector show that total installed electricity capacity increased from 2,339.9 MW in 2017 to 2,711.7 MW in 2018. Total demand increased by 7.9% from 10,359.9 GWh in 2017 to 11,182.0 GWh. Domestic demand increased to 8,702.3 GWh from 8,410.1 GWh in 2017. There has been additional power generation the national grid from Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (310 MW) and Garissa Solar Power Project (50MW) (Economic Survey 2019 Report).

Kenya’s Vision 2030 envisages the transformation of the country to becoming a newly industrialized and middle-income nation that provides its citizens with a high-quality life in a clean, secure environment. Realization of the vision is pegged on three key pillars: Growth and macroeconomic sustainability; Equity and poverty reduction, and; Improving governance. Some of the foundations that anchor the three pillars are science, infrastructure, innovation, and technology. The main enabler for the realization of our vision is a vibrant power sector that meets the electricity requirements for driving flagship projects and programs.

A vibrant energy sector should boast of ‘cheap,’ quality, reliable, and sustainable energy sources. In my interactions with energy practitioners, a question that we often discuss is: Does Kenya need to diversify/improve its power supply if we already have adequate one to satisfy its demand? Also, why not simply go for the solar, wind, and geothermal sources? In a bid to answer these questions, we first have to appreciate that Kenya is a blessed country overly endowed with solar and wind energy. We underscore the fact that these sources to a relatively high degree are clean, environmentally ‘friendly,’ renewable, sustainable, and somehow cost-effective.

The sun rises and sets every-day. Even on rather cloudy days, it is still possible to have some sunlight to form a bit of adequate electricity for powering homes. As a result of it being visible to virtually everyone on planet earth, nobody can claim monopoly and patent the sun. Does that not sound sweet? The wind, too, has got a number of advantages as does the sun.

This notwithstanding, environmentalists have usually capitalized on the relative advantages and seldom on the disadvantages of these sources. Despite their numerous pros, wind sources, for example, are, however, noisy, pose a threat to wildlife (such as birds), unpredictable, require vast space, and are generally inefficient. During the conversion of wind to usable electric energy, machinery within turbines are only able to extract about 59pc of wind’s power.

Most people who live near wind projects have found it less attractive and detrimental to the physical beauty of the surrounding. Some have gone to the level of delivering petitions to eradicate wind turbines in their environments completely. In the US state of Illinois, real estate data indicate a range of 25-40% loss of property value within 2 miles radius, loss bought about by wind energy developers. As a result of noise and sleep disturbance, certain instances exhibit nearly complete loss of marketability, abandonment, and eventual demolition of homes. Solar, too has its own sets of demerits not discussed herein.

To assure sustainability of the foundations that anchor Kenya’s Vision 2030 pillars, the country has to have an optimum energy mix that ensures quality, affordability, and reliability of its energy sources. We have to increase our capacity to generate power and look into various sources that have proved vital to some of the countries with gigantic economies. More often, I give examples with developed countries who have made it, partly as a result of their energy capacities. As Miguna Miguna once said, “Africa was not formed after other continents…” I fully believe Kenya, too, can become an economic star when one of the major key economic enablers (energy) is given the due attention it deserves. Without re-inventing the wheel, we too can do what others did to be called ‘developed countries.’

With affordable, quality, and reliable energy system, Kenya can be in a position to sustain high electricity consumption projects like steel and iron smelting industries, standard gauge railway, light rails, and subway systems within Nairobi and the suburbs, just to mention a few. Further, the realization of the government’s big four agenda (with a bias on the manufacturing sector) is partly pegged on Kenya’s capacity to generate power. Manufacturing is a major economic sector whose sustainable improvement goes a long way in the generation of employment opportunities, lowered costs of production, reduction of products’ costs, and improvement of living standards for citizens.

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A mind-boggling question then becomes: ‘How can we improve our energy systems?’ First, we have to improve our energy mix so we can leverage the advantages/benefits of many sources working as an integrated system. Looking into different sources, I would strongly advise the addition of nuclear power systems to our mix. One of the challenges with nuclear systems is that it is a highly technological field surviving on hard scientific principles, so few people may fully understand its operations. Since its conception in the 1950s, nuclear power has proved to be one of the most efficient, cheapest, and carbon-friendly energy sources.

Nuclear plants can have stable production for over 60 years and have been a major ingredient for growth in countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, France, and the USA. Currently, there exist over 450 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries. About 30 more countries (including Kenya) either constructing or planning the construction of new plants. In Africa, some of the newcomer countries include Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa, currently operating its first two reactor units.

Erick Maklago

KEPCO International Nuclear Graduate School (KINGS)

South Korea

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