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Kenyan sugar firms urged to think power

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 27 – Kenyan sugar companies should start using waste from their factories to generate electricity and contribute to the national grid, an energy expert has advised.

Cogeneration for Africa Director Stephen Karekezi argued on Thursday that if these companies invested in the production of electricity from the bagasse produced in their factories, they would easily meet up to 17 percent of the country’s power demand.

“If all sugar factories were as efficient as Mumias (Sugar Company), we would be able to meet the shortfall that we currently have,” he said while urging them to emulate Mumias Sugar which currently produces 35 Megawatts and sells more than 24MW to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company.

Industry players say 100 tonnes of sugarcane may produce as much as 17 tonnes of bagasse.

Mr Karekezi who spoke at a workshop to promote the adoption of renewable energy as a solution to the power crisis, however exuded optimism that the proposed privatisation of the sugar companies would unleash their potential.

“Once they are privatised and they are operating as efficiently as they should, they will become very important power producers and like in the case of Mauritius, they may very well find selling electricity more profitable than actually producing sugar,” he pointed out adding that the country wouldn’t need to import any emergency power.

Mr Karekezi also said that to ensure adequate power, the government should have a set feed in tariff to renewable energy producers.

While lauding the government for its efforts to quote favourable prices for this energy, the director emphasized that more needed to be done. One way would be to offer them a fixed price for the period of their investment.

“They’ve already done so but it is defined as ‘up to a certain level’. So there’s still some level of negotiation which delays investments. But if they are given a good price from the head on, it could transform the renewable energy industry,” he said again in reference to Mauritius.

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Skills improvement, he said was another initiative that the country needs to take up to fully develop and exploit the enormous geothermal capacity that it has.

Universities, he observed could come in handy just like Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology has done by starting an Engineering course on energy.

It is estimated that Kenya could produce between 3000MW to 5000MW of geothermal power but its only doing about 170MW.

In the 2009/2010 budget, government set aside Sh4billion which has been hailed but as a move in the right direction but Mr Karekezi argued that it should send the right signals to the private sector which has massive resources to invest in such a venture.

Meanwhile, the official has said the government’s move to distribute free energy saving bulbs should be refined by say subsidising their costs.

By so doing, the director said it would in the long term discourage the use inefficient bulbs and creates an industry which would produce the efficient lights.

Last month, the Energy Ministry announced that it would give out free one million bulbs which would the taxpayer Sh300 million.

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