In 2008, the then President Mwai Kibaki launched Kenya’s Vision 2030, which set an ambitious target to transform the East African giant into a rapidly industrialising, middle-income country with a favourable environmental footprint and dependence on clean energy sources. That same year, the government introduced the Feed in Tariff (FIT) policy which allowed Kenyan power producers to sell renewable energy-generated electricity to Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) at a predetermined tariff for the next 20 years. This was followed by the Energy (Solar Water Heating) Regulations which went into effect in 2012, thereby forcing all Kenyan buildings consuming over 100 litres of water to install solar water-heating systems. Just a few years later, the Kenyan Electricity Grid Code was introduced which established strict technical requirements for safe and efficient consumption.
This step-by-step approach has propelled Kenya to becoming the poster child for green energy in Africa. Along with the stringent regulation, the government has also been taking active measures to attract local and foreign investment in the sub-sector, such as the New Energy Act of 2019 and the Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project (KOSAP) – a World Bank initiative targeting 14 under-served counties in north and north-eastern Kenya. In fact, KOSAP appears to be taking shape already, with numerous independent households, communities and enterprises already reaping the benefits of the mini-grids, standalone solar systems and water pumps given to them to build capacity whilst also protecting the environment.
While Kenya may have missed its target to transition to 100% clean energy by 2020, it has made significant progress to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. As of June 2021, Kenya’s total energy production remained a mixed bag, with hydropower (52.1%), fossil fuels (32.5%), geothermal energy (13.2%), biogas cogeneration (8%) and wind energy (0.4%), despite installing the biggest wind power plant in Sub-Saharan Africa at Lake Turkana. New authorities to oversee the production, conversion, distribution, marketing, and consumption of renewable resources have been put in place and the government now offers tax incentives and exemptions from duty to encourage local power producers to become more efficient. Many public-private partnerships (PPPs) also exist to safeguard non-renewable energy reserves and promote renewables instead.
But of course, progress never comes easy. The challenges are plenty and amidst an official global climate change emergency, time is short. Not to mention, each renewable energy resource comes with a unique set of problems that Kenya must attend to accordingly. For instance, in procuring geothermal power, one must account for the long lead time – anywhere between 5 to 7 years - for the benefits to be realised. And then, there are the high upfront investment costs for transmission and distribution infrastructure. Similarly, hydropower generation is contingent upon the ever-changing water levels in dams and reservoirs, which are susceptible to climate change. The government must also compensate residents who were displaced from their homes to make way for dam construction.
In November 2021, Kenya will be a key participant at two events that will put its energy strategy under the spotlight. Current President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to share the progress that Kenya has made and champion Africa’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The following week, Kenya will take centre stage at the Africa Oil Week (AOW) in Dubai, joining Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Burundi in the annual showcase, which focuses on rebuilding the future of oil and gas in Africa as International Oil Companies buckle under pressure to grow their renewables businesses. If Kenya continues with the same energy – no pun intended – perhaps we could see Vision 2030 come to fruition much sooner? ‘