Kenya has gained global recognition for significantly expanding electricity access across the country but a major challenge remains: Connecting potential consumers who are far from the national grid.
Most of the people in the northern and eastern regions are in darkness due to the prohibitive costs and transmission losses of extending power lines over long distances.
They have, hence, missed out on the Last Mile Connectivity Programme, under which the government has rapidly expanded electricity access from just 29 per cent of the population in 2013 to 75 per cent this year. The number of connected households increased remarkably from 2.3 million to 6.9 million.
Off-grid solar solutions provide the least-cost option of lighting up the ‘electricity-poor’ Kenyans in the arid and semi-arid areas, making universal access to power by 2022 an achievable feat.
Kenya is one of the four countries — besides India, Bangladesh and Myanmar — that increased energy access the most since 2010, shows the “Energy Progress Report 2019” published by the World Bank, United Nations, World Health Organisation, International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency last month.
The innovative Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Programme (Kosap) will consolidate these gains by further reducing the number of people without electricity. The project, supported by Sh15 billion World Bank financing, is being implemented by the Ministry of Energy, Kenya Power and the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation.
Kosap involves construction of 151 mini grid and stand-alone solar systems to connect 1.3 million people in 277,000 households. Local enterprises and more than 1,100 public facilities — including schools, health facilities, administrative offices and 380 boreholes — will be connected to the mini grids. It will also facilitate provision of 150,000 ‘clean’ cooking stoves in West Pokot, Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu and Isiolo counties.
The off-grid solar model seeks to overcome the challenges of the interconnected electricity system, whose coverage is limited to the central corridor from Mombasa through Nairobi to the Lake Victoria region in western Kenya. The grid has left out a large population in the north, northeastern, Coast and Rift Valley regions.
Most of those missing out on the economic and social benefits of being connected to electricity are in the 14 counties classified by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) as “underserved” — West Pokot, Turkana, Marsabit, Samburu, Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Lamu, Kilifi, Kwale, Taita-Taveta and Narok.
These counties represent 72 per cent of Kenya’s total land area and a fifth of the population. Their population is highly dispersed, at a density four times lower than the national average, making it difficult to reach them through the main grid.
Kosap, it is hoped, will help Kenya overcome the challenges that many countries have experienced in scaling up off-grid services — including high cost of service, low affordability, inadequate customer financing, low-quality projects and lack of enabling frameworks.
The foremost challenge for Kenya is to encourage the private sector to invest in viable solar solutions in the target countries. While private investors have penetrated the densely populated areas with affordable solar solutions, they are less inclined to invest in low-return areas with sparse population and low levels of incomes.
The project has adopted innovative ways to overcome the financing gap that constrains private sector investment in the underserved counties. It has established a results-based facility and debt facilities to provide Sh4.6 billion incentives to the private sector, available over four years, to ensure a steady supply of solar home systems to the target beneficiaries.
The success of Kosap will complement the achievements of the Last Mile initiative, which has connected, at subsidised rates, every household within a 600-metre radius of a transformer and lit up all public primary schools and other utilities in those areas.
Kosap will lead to a more equitable universal electricity access for Kenyans in all regions and give them better quality of life from reduced cost of fuel, a cleaner environment and improved security. It will enhance Kenya’s progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number seven, whose progress is tracked annually by the “Energy Progress Report”, on affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Dr Njoroge (PhD), an engineer, is the principal secretary, Ministry of Energy. [email protected]