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Off-grid solutions cure for power deficit in Kenya

Wednesday October 31 2018
TariffPolicy-pix

Solar power panels. Kenya’s energy landscape offers latent opportunity for the entrepreneurial class to invest heavily in these off-the-grid technologies. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By DANIEL NJOROGE THUO

Kenya was recently ranked highly in the Global Energy Transition Index (Geti), which measures the ability of countries to balance energy security, affordability, accessibility and environmental sustainability.

Even though Kenya ranks above economies such as China, India and South Africa in the World Bank assessment, to attain universal electricity access for all, the 27 percent off-the-grid population should be connected to the mini grid. Mini-grid — or rather, off-grid — solutions is electricity provided from solar, biogas and, to some extent, pico hydro (hydroelectric power generation of under 5 kW), especially to communities that have no access to natural on-grid energy.

ENERGY BILL

An off-grid solution to electricity access in Kenya is critical. The least-cost power development plan (LCPDP) 2017-2037 envisages 100 percent connectivity for Kenyans by 2020. However, rural areas reportedly registered a very low access rate despite the government having registered an encouraging average rate of 73 percent by mid this year.

This is where Kenya’s energy landscape offers latent opportunity for the entrepreneurial class to invest heavily in these off-the-grid technologies. There is optimism, especially with a new dispensation in the electricity sector set to be ushered in by the Energy Bill 2017 now before the Senate.

CLOSING GAP

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The Bill envisages, among many others, a scenario where net metering would be a low-cost, low-risk way to introduce and connect small-scale renewable energy investors to the grid. But, most importantly, off-grid solutions will allow Kenya to continue its leadership in commercial renewable energy development in East and Central Africa.

According to the International Energy Agency, around 600 million people, or two-thirds of Africans, are still without access to power; hence, off-grid solutions can be critical in closing the energy access gap in the continent and create a successful forward path out of energy poverty.

INTEGRAL PART

These technologies convincingly have a potential for the private sector to participate and complement the government’s efforts to attain access to electricity, which forms an integral part of the solution to energy shortfall as well as enhance and advance the energy dilemma conversation.

Adoption of technologies such as mini-grid solutions are necessary since they have the potential to revolutionise the energy sector. The viability of the micro-grid as well as off-grid solutions have been a challenge. However, with the advancement of technology, this is no longer the case and more housing units are embracing these systems.

ECO-FRIENDLY

In Tanzania, for instance, where pockets of change are already realised, Power Africa collaborated with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to create a quality assurance framework for the mini-grid solutions.

According to the director of investment advisory, Energy 4 Impact, Peter Weston, by providing this framework, performance and monitoring for mini–grid greatly enhanced better regulatory compliance by customers who adopted these technologies into their housing units, eventually transforming homes into eco-friendly units.

HAZARDOUS

As Kenya looks forward to phase out kerosene in favour of clean energy (in the energy markets) due to its hazardous nature and the notorious part it plays in fuel adulterations, off-grid solution would be a welcome alternative.

Supporting off-grid solutions and investing in generation, transmission and distribution of electricity collectively forms part of the road map to realisation of access to electricity for all.

Mr Thuo is an energy economist and adviser at The Africa Utility Forum. [email protected]

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