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The Rise of Renewable Energy in Kenya

Renewable energy in KenyaWithin the continent of Africa, Kenya has become one of the fastest-growing nations. Between 2010 and 2018, the country saw annual growth of 5.9% and a GDP of $95 billion. Due to COVID-19, there have been challenges toward the attempts to continue growth. However, there is one area that continues to grow and is apparently the key to ensuring this growth prevails. This new safety net is a renewed use of renewable energy in Kenya.

Over the past decade, Kenya shifted to clean and natural energy. This change received support from the African Development Bank, the Kenyan government and European investment partners. The result has been a rise of new resources for renewable energy in Kenya and their implementation in new areas. In 2013, around 28% of the country’s population had access to electricity. The use of renewable energy has given Kenya the ability to supply it to more homes. The results have led the nation’s electrification to rise to more than 60% in 2017. Even if the issues from COVID-19 have impeded the current growth, the government still prioritizes this shift of resources. However, one of the most interesting developments is Kenya’s focus on multiple types of energy that can consistently provide electricity.

Wind

The usage of wind power had previously been prominent in Kenya and has provided a considerable amount through wind farm projects. Using wind turbines to generate electricity, this type of power has become one of the more widespread methods of obtaining renewable energy throughout the world. In Kenya, one of the most notable projects has been the Lake Turkana Wind Farm. The area of Lake Turkana was prime for this type of installation as it has consistently high wind speeds. Having 365 turbines, the farm has a power output of around 300 megawatts. The goal of the farm is to increase the electrical supply of the country by 13%. The project took 15 years to build and is the largest of its kind in Africa.

Another successful farm is the Ngong site that the company KenGen operates. Located near the city of Nairobi, the station’s output provides 5,100 kilowatts of power. Ngong was also the largest wind farm until Lake Turkana underwent construction. These projects both ensure the decreased use of fossil fuels and the growth of jobs to help maintain the farms. The Lake Turkana project alone employed over 2,500 people for its construction.

Also, the government support for these projects shows the country’s desire to have its own independent sources of power. The ability for Kenya to tap into grids and resources within its own borders provides benefits and allows for less of a need to rely on other nations for energy. While costs could be an issue, as most areas suitable for wind generation sites are far from the main grids, the benefits are tangible and the support from the government and other organizations could alleviate any financial problems concerning renewable energy in Kenya.

Hydroelectricity

Another of the most prominent types of renewable energy in Kenya is hydropower. This type of energy uses the natural flow of water to generate electricity. The amount of energy from the hydropower installations has resulted in a capacity of 743 megawatts. Due to Kenya being part of the African Great Lakes region, its potential for hydropower could reach 3,500 megawatts. The use of this energy also has a long history as small systems were present since the 1920s. The company Andritz Hydro first commissioned modern stations in 1968 with the Kindaruma Power Station. Since then, hydropower has remained a constant source of energy within Kenya.

Rural communities have consistently used hydropower. One individual who has taken advantage of this opportunity is Kenyan native John Magiro. His family raised him in a rural farming community with no electricity. As an adult, he dedicated his life to ensuring that communities like his would receive electricity and other modern advantages. This has culminated in the construction of a micro-hydropower plant along the Gondo river around 2015. The creation of plants like this, alongside support from organizations like the Kenya Environmental Trust Fund (NETFUND), shows that there is a desire in the country to easily give rural communities the benefits that renewable energy can provide.

However, as of late, there has been a consistent issue with the reliability of hydropower in Kenya. Over the past few years, there have been consistent droughts and a lack of rain. This has reduced the water going through dams and less overall production from plants. Between December 2016 and January 2017, production of energy declined from 299 million kilowatts per hour to 252 kilowatts per hour. While this does not spell doom for the future of this energy since weather is unpredictable and rain patterns could go back to their prior state, events like this show the necessity of investing in multiple types of energy. If one energy declines, another that supplies at a more consistent rate will be available. In particular, there has been one source of energy that has grown in importance in the wake of declining water in Kenya.

Geothermal

Accompanying the slight decline of hydropower has been the advancement of geothermal energy. This energy relies on the natural steam from rifts within the earth and, unlike other resources, outside influences such as weather or other natural occurrences, do not affect it. In 2017, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that at least 274 million kilowatts per hour come from thermal sources monthly. Through its application, geothermal energy has managed to create 32% of the overall electricity that people consumed in Kenya.

The construction of new plants has shown abundant results and higher energy outputs. In 2015, two new plants in Kenya’s rift valley, Olkaria, helped the national energy increase by 51%. The World Bank Group has backed Kenya in financing the use of this energy through its Internal Development Association (IDA). This has resulted in the region of Olkaria turning into one of the largest sources of geothermal energy in the world and one of the most prominent energy suppliers in the country. These efforts have helped geothermal energy rise up as one of the most prominent types of renewable energy in Kenya. At the moment, geothermal energy looks to be the most important source to the current efforts of change within Kenya due to the advantages it offers in output and availability.

Why This Matters

The rise of renewable energy in Kenya is important as it represents a lot for the country. The creation of new advancements represents a drive to modernize and connect Kenya to a larger global scene. Many people dedicate their lives to ensuring that those living in rural areas have opportunities that are common in other countries. In general, this is what renewable energy represents for Kenya. Not only does it supply a lot for the nation, but it also brings new innovations. They can connect electricity to places that have never had it before and all could reap the benefits of a revitalized Kenya. It may take some time, but a better future is on the horizon not just for Kenya, but also for all countries focusing on new ways to improve themselves.

– John Dunkerley
Photo: Flickr