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Country Set to Tap Power From Renewable Energy

Jul 6, 2009 - The Nation/All Africa Global Media

Kenya is fast-tracking its plan to boost renewable energy as hydro power increasingly becomes unreliable due to erratic rains.

Several such power projects are scheduled to kick off next month. The initiative is being coordinated by the office of the Prime Minister.

The envisaged 20-year plan to boost the country's power by 2,000 megawatts has been turned to a three-year "crash programme".

In adopting renewable energy, Kenya hopes to reap added gains of turning the country into a green economy.

By going green, Kenya will be joining a global initiative to combat climate change through environment-friendly practices, that promise millions of new jobs.

The term green energy is a relatively new term in Africa but experts argue that the continent can earn billions of dollars by turning to green economies.

The green energy initiative is in tandem with the UN initiative of carbon trading. It allows developed countries to offset some of their emissions from cars, factories and homes by funding clean energy projects in the Third World.

On top of winning carbon trading points, the renewable energy generation in Kenya will inject additional power to the national grid to assuage fears of the manufacturing sector and potential investors.

Manufacturers have blamed the high cost of locally produced goods on expensive electricity tariffs.

Kenya obtains more than 75 per cent of its 1,200MW of power from hydro. The country's only existing source of renewable energy is geothermal power, which has not been fully exploited.

By June 2012, according to Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the country will have boosted its energy capacity by up to 2,000MW through geothermal, wind, bio-fuel, solid waste and coal-driven power plants.

He outlined the green energy initiative plan to MPs during the PM's question time just before Parliament went for recess.

Mr Odinga chairs a taskforce that is to advise the government from next month on the projects to be implemented. The taskforce's greatest task is establishing financing partnerships with the private investors.

Members of the steering committee of the taskforce include the PM, his two deputies and the ministers for Energy, Industrialisation, Environment and Agriculture. Others are the PM's permanent secretary and the chairpersons of Kenya Private Sector Alliance and Association of Large Power Consumers.

The experts group will be chaired by Energy PS with his counterpart at Treasury and the PM's economic adviser acting as alternative chairs.

The membership will be drawn from KenGen, KPLC, Geothermal Development Company and the National Environmental Management Authority.

In an interview with the Nation, the PM's economic adviser, Prof Hiroyuki Hino, explained that by embracing the green economy concept, the country would gain in two major ways.

First, he says, the country will be able to save it environment from degradation and reduce the effects of climate change.

"We will be able to produce more energy at reduced cost and eventually be able to get into carbon trading. This will in turn boost the country's economy and the livelihood of Kenyans," Prof Hino said.

The Energy ministry has so far identified six geothermal projects in Olkaria and Menengai with a total capacity of 490MW. Financing is the only obstacle to exploitation.

According to Prof Hino, the government, through engagement with the private sector, aims at reducing the time used to setting up the projects from two years to one.

"The physical construction of a geothermal plant can take up to two years. Most of this time has in the past been taken up by conducting feasibility studies and seeking financing," said Prof Hino.

He added: "We plan to come up with all the possible projects. We will then invite proposals from foreign and local firms to invest in the projects."

In his 2009/2010 Budget speech, Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta said to generate clean energy and transform Kenya into a green economy, the government planned to establish a Green Energy Facility.

The facility will offer interest-free long-term loans to firms that opt to replace conventional high-cost energy generation with low-cost green energy alternatives.

The minister intends to spend Sh500 million and expects to elicit donor support through this initiative to scale up its operation. He also allocated an additional Sh400 million for the installation of solar technologies in the arid and semi-arid regions.

The allocation has been criticised as meagre by some industry players but the PM says that identification of the projects would lead to the search for funding.

Northern districts

The United Nations says Kenya has the capacity to generate more than 3,000MW of electricity if it tapped into wind energy in its vast northern districts.

Prof Hino explained that the government had identified Turkana and Ngong where wind power generation projects with a capacity of 360MW will be set up.

Egypt draws upto 7,520 MW of its energy from wind-power projects while Mexico gets 5,000MW. The UN says Kenya has adequate wind to generate energy for both export and domestic use.

According to Mr Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of the Nairobi-based Unep, wind and solar power projects are beginning to take off in Africa. There are an estimated 100 projects in more than 20 countries, says the UN.

The government is also looking at the loss-making sugar factories in western Kenya as another source of renewable energy.

According to the PM and Prof Hino, up to 300MW can be co-generated through the sugar factories and help save on the amount of power being drawn from the national grid by the factories.


Updated: 2016/06/30

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