The state of renewable energy in Kenya

November 17, 2015
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According to Hivos, renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally restored on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat/FILE
According to Hivos, renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally restored on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 17 – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once said that renewable energy has the ability to lift even the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.

Kenya, although not a very poor country – having been classified as a middle income country by World Bank last year – is in need of renewable energy, if only to compliment it with what is being used to generate energy by the majority of people and to meet its Vision 2030 goals.

According to a finding by Professor William Ogara from the University of Nairobi, Kenya depends heavily on wood fuel and other biomass which account for 68 percent of the total energy consumption. Petroleum accounts for 22 percent while electricity accounts for 9 percent.

Information released by Humanist Institute for Co-Operation with Developing Countries (Hivos) additionally reveals that worldwide, approximately 3 billion people rely on biomass for cooking and heating, and about 1.5billion have no access to electricity.

“Kenya’s population was estimated to be 42 million in 2012. Among them, three quarters live in rural areas. Almost 90 percent of them are dependent on firewood for cooking and heating. That’s not all, 10 percent of people living in urban areas are estimated to use firewood too,” says Professor Ogara.

This is therefore a clear indicator that electricity, which is primarily used for lighting only, is not a sufficient source of energy in the country.

Hence resulting to other sources of renewable energy.

According to Hivos, renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are naturally restored on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.

Kenya has the resources it needs to fully tap into renewable energy. However, this is yet to happen.

Solar energy, for instance, is probably the most popular source of renewable energy. The energy is radiated from nuclear fusion from the Sun’s interior and is converted into chemical, heat or electrical energy.

Popularly harnessed for the purposes of lighting, heating and generating electricity, solar energy seem to be thriving in the country especially because of supporting legislation.

For instance the law demands that all residential houses being built must install solar panels. But despite this, the use of solar energy continues to face major challenges.

According to Engineer Lamarck Oyath from Lartech Africa, land is the biggest challenge on the implementation of renewable energy in the country including solar energy.

“No renewable energy project in the country can be implemented without land. The challenge with land is that it is such a high valued commodity, which is also highly titled. This means that getting an ample amount of land at regions with the resources needed to generate renewable energy is a big problem,” Oyath says.

In cases where land is available, it is usually far away from where the grid is. This means extra transportation costs to the company harnessing the energy. In turn, the costs are felt by the end consumers.

As far as solar energy is concerned, other challenges faced include insignificant exploitation levels of solar in the country, high cost of solar technology despite the feed-in-tariff policy among others.

“Rampant theft of solar photovoltaic panels also discourages installation. No one wants to invest a lot of money in something that will end up getting stolen,” Oyath explained.

Wind energy, which is one of the oldest sources of energy; seem to be making a comeback especially in remote areas which are far away from the grid.

This source of energy can be used in home systems, telecommunications, off-grid lightning and for use in small institutions and businesses. However, it is battling a couple of challenges which are halting its uptake.

These include high-up front costs and competing interest in land use and other commercial activities.

“Another challenge that the uptake of wind energy faces is that most potential areas for wind generation are far away from the grid and load centres require high capital investment for transmission lines.”

Oyath adds that the country lacks adequate data on wind energy and all the other renewable energy sources.

Investors coming into the country hoping to put their money into wind energy generation and other forms of renewable energy have to gather information on where to harness these resources themselves as they is no available information on the same.

“There is available funding for renewable energy projects. But there is hardly any information available to show the viability of these projects, hence the funding is not being utilized as it should,” Oyath says.

Another form of renewable energy that is quickly being adapted in the country is bio-energy which is created by organic resources produced by animals and plants. The biggest challenge that the uptake of bio-energy faces in the country is that there is no overall policy on biomass and the laws that apply are incoherent.

But whether the necessary measures are put in place to ensure renewable energy is taken up, a social challenge that comes with it is yet to be addressed.

Hivos states that including gender when making gender decisions is important because women, for instance, who consume a lot of time using energy especially for cooking.

Of the 69 percent of Kenyan households who use firewood for cooking. Women – and children – are directly affected as they the ones who collect the firewood spending between four and seven hours walking in search of firewood.

According to Maimuna Kabatesi, an Advocacy Officer at Hivos, a large portion of women’s economic contribution is often unrecognized and unpaid, therefore resulting in less attention in the development of technology to improve the work of women.

“Renewable energy addresses their labour saving needs such as water pumping, grain grinding and transport. It addressed their needs in cooking energy that is less labour intensive, convenient and safer,” Kabatesi explains.

She adds that increasing access to renewable energy can only have positive benefits for individuals – for both men and women- and for the development of a country at a local and national level.

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