Africa’s post-Covid-19 growth recovery and economic prosperity are dependent on renewable energy which will be a critical driver.
According to International Energy Agency data, scaling up Africa’s capacity to achieve universal access to energy by 2030 would require over US$100 billion per year. Of this amount, 40 per cent would be dedicated to solar, wind, and other low-carbon power generation projects.
There are a number of initiatives meant to accelerate electrification on the continent among which is the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s New Deal on Energy for Africa which is a transformative partnership-based strategy that aims to increase access to energy for all Africans.
At the 2021 UK Africa Investment Summit held in January this year, panelists agreed that investing in large-scale electrification projects would be key to getting Africa’s economy off the runway.
With such sentiments, Kenya is a good example to look at since it is the investment hub of East Africa. The nation of 50 million is a paradox of sorts when it comes to electricity and energy access.
For starters, Kenya is currently producing significantly more power than it consumes which is a histrionic reversal of the crippling power rationing of the early 2000s. In 2010, the country’s power crisis almost brought it to a crippling halt.
The paradox for this nation is that despite the energy generation progress, many households still lack electricity while those that are connected to the main grid experience poor quality, while reliability continually stifles economic growth. But the country is on course to tapping more green energy sources to reduce power generation using diesel which has led to expensive power for Kenyans.
The country’s monopoly provider Kenya Power has been facing resistance as customers switch to solar which is much cheaper than what the company is offering.
Last year, the monopoly was rattled as the growing shift to solar power systems saw heavy consumers opt for reliable and cheaper supply. This shift has seen Kenya Powershift gears to reverse the thinning revenues trend which is eating into its profitability. Those moving to solar energy sources account for about 54.8 per cent of Kenya Power’s sales revenues which is a big blow to its financial wellbeing.
An estimated 55 per cent of Kenya Power revenues are from 3,600 industrial power users. Some of these customers have started migrating off the grid due to high power bills, unreliability, and attractive distributed generation options.
Due to the expensive energy, Kenya’s manufacturing sector has been forced to remain in infancy since most of the products cannot be competitive internationally. This has seen the stagnation of the sector which has the potential to employ millions of Kenyans currently suffering from a lack of jobs.
An interesting thing about East Africa is that the region has enough sunshine which if well harnessed could power the entire world. The region has 73.1 trillion kilowatt-hours of solar power potential per year using photovoltaic technologies.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar power potential is the total amount of land suitable for solar power production and which could be made available for the generation of electricity which could be sold to the national grid.
Continent-wide, the East African region has the highest solar potential while on a country basis South Africa and Sudan have notably the highest solar power potential with 42.2 trillion kWh and 87.8 trillion kWh respectively.
To tap the energy from the sun, Distributed Power Africa (DPA) and Canadian Solar Company have partnered to reduce energy costs for Kenyan companies which lose nearly 10 percent of their production due to power outages and fluctuations. In the deal, DPA provides top-tier PV panels that will also be made available to DPA customers in the African market which in addition to Kenya includes South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Lesotho.
The Canadian Solar Company is one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic products and energy solutions providers. It is also one of the largest solar power plant developers globally.
To show the pull and attraction that the clean energy sector has, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has already launched a first-of-its-kind 500kW solar power project for CO₂ mitigation. The project is part of the €6.5 million “Capacity Building for CO₂ Mitigation from International Aviation” initiative, implemented by the International Civil Aviation Organization and funded by the European Union. This first-of-its-kind pilot project in Africa consists of a ground-mounted 500kW solar power generation facility and mobile airport gate electric equipment at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa, Kenya.
The solar-at-gate project provides pre-conditioned air and compatible electricity running on solar energy to aircraft during ground operations which eliminates carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft parked at the gate.
Before the switch, these operations use their auxiliary power unit (APU) powered by jet fuel or airport ground power units (GPU) fuelled by diesel to run on-board systems and cooling before departing on their next flight.
The solar facility generates 820,000 kWh per year which will see a reduction of at least 1,300 tonnes of CO₂ every year.
With demands for clean power, renewable energy is no longer an option to be easily ignored and it has become king.
For the likes of Kenya Power, solar energy installations are exploding currently impelling these utility companies to have to evolve with the times. Due to the public outcry over the expensive power in Kenya, many small solar farms are coming up while companies are installing solar panels for the same economic issues and incessant power outages.
Liberalizing the energy sector is a long-overdue option for Kenya since this would enable many more companies to join the fray and offer options to Kenyans. With the Equator running right through the middle of the East African nation, it is ironic that solar power is not the leading energy source.
Most of the country is arid and semi-arid making it easier for solar energy generation.
As mentioned earlier, there are several homes and small-scale solar systems which are very common in Kenya but on a larger scale, some projects which will be connected to the grid are beginning to come up.
Garissa, which is 225 miles northeast of Nairobi, hosts the largest grid-scale solar project which saw Kenya increase its share of renewable energy to the grid to 93 per cent.
China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Co-operation (CJIC) constructed the Garissa Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant which consists of 200 solar panels connected to inverters and installed on 85 hectares.
Kenya Rural Electrification Authority developed the project and signed a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Kenya Power.
Under the agreement, Kenya Power is purchasing a kWh of electricity at 8 shillings (US$0.07) less than electricity generated from diesel which costs Kshs20 (US$0.2).
The solar farm is now the main source of power in Garissa County.