- Kenya Power attributed the severe power outage to an electricity generation loss from the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant.
- However, the wind farm contests the claim, asserting that the nationwide power outage was due to an “overvoltage situation” in the national grid system.
- Even importing power from neighbouring Uganda, a near default option during emergencies, hit difficulties.
Kenya, East Africa’s economic nerve centre, was in the dark at 9.45 pm (1845 GMT) on Friday, plunging people and industries into the most prolonged nationwide blackout. Utility Kenya Power stated that the electricity outage was due to “a system disturbance”.
As lights flickered back on for nearly 24 hours later, a game of blame took centre stage, leaving the nation and analysts puzzled and raising concerns about Kenya’s energy infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and overall management.
In a country where technological advancements and a burgeoning tech industry have earned a reputation as a continental powerhouse, the massive power outage lifted the lid on a different facet of Kenya’s reality–one marked by possible mismanagement and severe infrastructure challenges.
Blackout leaves millions in the dark
The ordeal saw a majority of 50 million Kenyans left without power, including supply to critical installations in the capital, Nairobi.
For Kenya, the timing couldn’t have been worse as the nation seeks to shine on the global stage as a trailblazer in technology and innovation. As the power outage cast a shadow over daily life and businesses, the State-owned electricity distributor, Kenya Power, and the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant, Africa’s largest wind farm, traded well-aimed accusations at each other, deepening the mystery surrounding the outage.
For hundreds of passengers stranded in darkness at East Africa’s busiest international airport, the power cut was more than an inconvenience; it was the tip of the iceberg, a pointer to broader challenges facing the country. Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen’s rare public apology expressed the government’s embarrassment while vowing that such a scenario wouldn’t repeat.
“I wish to issue an unreserved apology to all travellers and airport users who were affected in one way or another by the power disruption. There is no excuse worth reporting, and there is no reason why our airport is in darkness,” said Murkomen.
Flights were delayed, and top managers sent home
The fallout wasn’t confined to delayed flights and dimmed cityscapes in freewheeling Nairobi on a Friday night. The Managing Director of Kenya Airports Authority, Alex Gitari, lost his job after a generator failure grounded operations in the leading international terminal. The aviation sector, a vital cog in Kenya’s economy due to tourism, bore the brunt of the outage’s impact.
As the night settled, Kenya Power attributed the extensive outage to a power generation loss from the Lake Turkana Wind Power plant, triggering a domino effect that resulted in a complete grid failure.
However, the wind farm contested the claim, asserting that it resulted from an “overvoltage situation” in the national grid system, compelling the plant’s automatic shutdown mechanism to kick in.
Lake Turkana Wind Power plant, a significant contributor to Kenya’s electricity output at nearly 15 per cent, found itself offline due to the continuing grid instability.
Other power sources should have mitigated the complications, but the persisting grid troubles hindered the wind farm’s restoration. Even importing power from neighbouring Uganda, a near default option during emergencies, hit inexplicable difficulties.
Businesses suffered significant losses
Despite the power crisis and lack of satisfactory explanation, Kenya’s President William Ruto turned his attention to opposition-led protests over the escalating cost of living, painting them as threats to investor confidence.
Meanwhile, newspapers didn’t hold back in their criticism, with the Sunday Nation‘s headline screaming, “Shame of a nation.” Similarly, The Sunday Standard roared, “The Blackout of Shame.” Businesses suffered significant losses, and major hospitals relied on generators, with the heart of the tech revolution cast in a harsh light.
Despite this setback, Kenya’s commitment to renewable energy remains steadfast. As the country prepares to host the first Africa Climate Summit, its almost exclusive reliance on renewable sources for electricity is a point of pride.
Data from the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) shows Kenya generates over 87 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources. This encompasses geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind energy. Kenya’s installed photovoltaic capacity is currently at 210MW, up from 170MW by June last year.
However, this incident serves as a sobering reminder that even in a nation with such green credentials, challenges within the power infrastructure can still cast a long shadow over progress.