🇰🇪 Voice#09: The Energy Paradox in Kenya: Is it Worth Being Sustainable?
High Sustainability, Poor Access
The following article has been written in collaboration with a 23-year-old living in Kenya to share his experiences and how he tries to navigate living in an inflated and unstable government.
Recently Congo opened licensing rights for 30 oil and gas blocks, which could release large amounts of carbon into our air. The priority was economic growth over the climate.
“The launch of the tendering process… speaks to our desire to put our resource potential at the service of our country” — Tshisekedi, President DRC
It was a headline grabber, as the decision went totally against the ideal tides of our days. On the opposite spectrum, Sri Lanka has one of the highest ESG scores but is bankrupt. Citizens are fighting through high food, energy, and living costs.
So this led me to the question: Do we have to compromise economic growth when striving for sustainability?
From the All-In Podcast, David Sachs (former COO of PayPal) summarizes it in a dark picture.
I do think that we can’t save the planet by destroying the economy. It seems to me that too many of these save the planet people want to take reckless, extreme actions that would wreck our economy.
Which decision is correct?
Kenya is in a questionable state. 80% of its electricity comes from renewable sources (geothermal). And they have more capacity.
Yet, the energy situation in Kenya is not good. The country has a vast potential for clean energy sources, but the cost of electricity is very high compared to neighboring countries. In addition, the power supply is unreliable and intermittent.
This article will look at what Kenya is trying to do regarding the energy paradox and what is being done to move towards solar energy to ensure that clean energy sources constitute a majority of its national grid by 2030.
Kenya’s Excellent Carbon Valley.
Kenya has some of the world’s most significant potential for clean energy production. The nation is home to two of the most potent geothermal plants in Africa, which produce up to 80% of Kenya’s electricity and are helping to drive down its carbon emissions.
But despite this great start, Kenya still faces challenges regarding addressing climate change and meeting its global climate commitments.
The issue is that while there are many benefits associated with renewable energies like solar and wind power, they’re often expensive because they require more advanced technology with higher maintenance costs than petroleum derivatives (coal/natural gas).
Because each kilowatt hour from a traditional fossil fuel source costs just over $0.10 worldwide but around $0.30 in Kenya, many people struggle financially trying to keep their lights on every day after paying their utility bills.
The Energy Crisis
Throughout recent years, the government has significantly improved the electricity supply in the country. However, a quarter of Kenya’s population is still not connected to the electrical grid.
Though connectivity has improved, the government has failed to address the problems of unreliable power supply, high electricity prices, and the general vandalization of major electric supply equipment like transformers.
Unreliable and Intermittent Power Supply.
Power outages are common and tend to last a few minutes up to several hours in Kenya. They can be caused by lack of rain or technical faults but are also often the result of theft or sabotage.
Recently in January of 2022, there was a nationwide blackout for a whole day in the country.
The problem was that the main electricity supply line had been damaged, and since Kenya has a monopolistic supply chain for electricity, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC).
Kenyans could only rely on them to repair the damages and restore power. Unfortunately, this took several hours, meaning billions of losses in the economy for that day.
Cost of Electricity in Kenya
The cost of electricity in Kenya is higher than in most neighboring countries.
For example, the price of electricity in Kenya is roughly double that of Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda.
The high costs make it difficult for Kenyans to afford necessities like food and shelter; the average household spends more than 10% on energy costs. It also creates an environment where companies are reluctant to invest in new technologies to make their products more affordable.
So what’s causing this disparity?
Only one company countrywide supplies electricity to the whole country: Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC). Being a monopoly in the energy sector means it provides electricity on its basis and rates. This reduces price competitiveness and motivation to innovate.
Clean Energy Sources in Kenya
Kenya could increase its electricity production if it utilized its solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric resources to their fullest extent. Kenya is one of the sunniest countries, and over 80% of its land is arid or semi-arid.
In addition, a ton of wind blows across these lands. So it is no surprise that wind power also plays a vital role in Kenya’s long-term strategy for clean energy growth.
Wind turbines can be placed anywhere, even near cities, if needed, and supply clean power 24/7 without having any fuel costs associated with them (like coal or natural gas).
Wind farms generally only need maintenance once every five years or so. After that point, they can keep producing electricity indefinitely without needing anything else besides regular cleaning done regularly by technicians.
“We have installed the biggest wind power plant in sub-Sahara Africa — the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, and are steadily exploiting and deploying available geothermal potential, currently estimated to be 10,000 Megawatts,” — President Kenyatta
The Move Towards Solar Energy
Aside from wind power, solar power is the most abundant energy source, and it’s also the cleanest form of energy and relatively cost-effective compared to other alternative points.
Kenya’s government has made severe strides in ensuring that clean energy sources are part of its national grid, but plenty of work still needs to be done. President of Kenya, H.E Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, is spearheading the initiative.
The country has made significant solar energy investments to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and increase its access to electricity.
Ample foreign investments are coming to the country too. For example, the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), financed by the governments of the U.K., the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden, provided a loan to build a 40MW solar project in Kenya (costing $87 million).
Initiatives in Pushing for Clean Energy.
James Irungu Mwangi, a Kenyan social entrepreneur, is a significant advocate not only in Kenya but in the whole of Africa for a move into the utilization of clean energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal energy.
He was recently on TED talk and aired out his ideals on how Africa, in general, is blessed with natural resources, some of which can be utilized to produce energy for generations to come at available rates.
Road Not Taken
Ideally, the energy situation in Kenya is wanting, and there’s still substantial work to be finished before it can solve its power crisis.
With the government making serious strides in ensuring that clean energy sources are part of its national grid and the rise of social entrepreneurs, Kenya may be able to show a path where sustainability and economic development coexist.
We are on course to achieve our target of 100% use of clean energy by 2030 — President Kenyatta
A Quick Tour of Kenyan Cuisine (Courtesy of AI)
Kenyan cuisine is as varied as the people who live in the East African nation. The country's culinary tradition has been shaped by a long history of migration and trade, and as a result, dishes from across the globe can be found in Kenyan kitchens. While some dishes are specific to certain ethnic groups, others have become popular nationwide.
One of the most iconic Kenyan dishes is ugali, a thick maize porridge that is commonly served with greens or stew. Ugali is a staple food for many Kenyans and is often eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other popular dishes include pilau, a rice dish flavored with spices, and chapati, a flatbread typically served with curry. Regardless of where you are in Kenya, you will surely find a dish that satisfies your appetite.
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