Coal is essential in Kenya’s energy mix

For any sustainable and established economy, it is essential to have constant and reliable sources of power that will be able to drive the economy and ensure growth. With Kenya eyeing industrial transformation, the growing demand for reliable sources of power is latching onto the increased capacity of power generation.

It is indeed accurate that Kenya has a current installed electricity capacity of 2,300 MW, against an average peak demand of 1,770 MW. At an average production of 1,050 MW, the Lamu coal power plant will almost double the current capacity. It is easy to argue that this will lead to excess capacity and that Kenyan tax payers will have to pay for the excess power that will not go into use. However, according to the vision 2030 strategic goals, Kenya should have reached an installed capacity of 24,000MW so that it can be able to comfortably support industrial growth that will have been achieved by then. Additionally, data shows that electricity demand in Kenya is growing by 8 per cent annually and it is anticipated to grow to 9 per cent after 2020, in time the current 2, 300MW will barely be enough to satisfy all Kenyans.

Vision 2030 development strategy aims at accelerating sustainable growth, reducing inequality, and managing resource scarcity. There is no better way to kick-start this than making energy cheaper as it is a primary input. Cheap energy has the potential of transforming lives and accelerating growth across multiple sectors

Lamu Coal power plant will provide base-load capacity at the second lowest tariff in the country while at the same time ensuring high availability and reliability. Coal power plant has the flexibility to reduce or increase generation compared to other power sources that are inflexible making consumers pay additional costs for unused power.

Whereas there are genuine concerns around environmental issues and social impact of the coal power to Lamu County, it is wrong to assume that the project has not put in measures to mitigate against any kind of hazardous impact. For example, to address emissions, the project will invest in state-of-the art clean coal technology including a Wet Limestone Flue Gas Desulphurization Unit that will reduce emission to levels that meet World Bank guidelines for air quality in coal power plants.

As can be seen with the unfolding developments in “Coal Technology”, countries that are building new coal power plants are turning to more environmental and energy efficient plants that are more efficient and emit less, and therefore pose little danger to the environment and the health of the people. Countries like Denmark, Germany, and Japan have demonstrated with their plants that emissions can be drastically reduced while at the same time improving the efficiency of the power plants. Other countries that are building new coal power plants employing modern technology include; China, Japan, United States, Dubai, Egypt and South Africa, to name but just a few. I am glad that Kenya has followed suite.

Additionally, it is worth noting that whereas the Kenyan limit for nitro- oxides emission, which also follows the recommended International Finance Corporation (IFC) limit at 510 milligrams per metre cubic, the Lamu Coal power plant nitro-oxides emissions will be at 450 milligrams per metre cubic, making it one of the safest in the world. For sulphur-oxides, the IFC limit is at 850 milligrams per metre cubic whereas the project foresees emissions at less than 350 milligrams per metre cubic.

It should come out clearly that the objective of the coal power project is to make energy cheaper so that it can be accessed by everyone across the economy. This will help in limiting usage of charcoal and firewood as a means of energy. Research shows that emissions from use of wood and charcoal-fired cook stoves are more dangerous than any other carbon emissions because they are unfiltered while being released to the environment.

Coal still remains a vital component in the energy mix not just in Kenya but all over the world. 40 per cent of the world’s electricity is produced from coal, which does not come as a surprise because of its reliability and affordability. With nearly 900 billion tons of reserves, coal remains a self-sufficient and affordable means to produce power and provide energy security.

James Mbugua is a consultant based in Nairobi,

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