Kenya bets on solar power to bridge supply gap

By: IMMACULATE KARAMBU

The government is banking on solar power plants to bridge the electricity supply gap as it races to meet its target of increasing generation capacity by 5,000 megawatts by the end of next year.

Energy and Petroleum Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge last week said he energy ministry is currently evaluating “numerous” proposals from investors to set up solar plants around the country before they strike power-purchase deals with Kenya Power.

“We have always preferred to use the least cost sources of electricity. However, the uptake of solar locally has been slowed by research to reduce the rates at which this form of energy is fed to the national grid,” said Mr Njoroge.

Last year, the average rate at which investors could sell solar electricity to Kenya Power stood at 15 US cents. The government has been pushing for the rates to come down to about 12 US cents, in its bid to reduce the cost of energy.

STRATHMORE SOLAR POWER

The government seems to have won the battle as two weeks ago the first batch of solar electricity was hooked to the grid at 12 US cents per unit. This was also a historic change in the country’s energy mix that previously did not consist of solar power before.

About 0.25 megawatts of solar energy will be fed from panels installed by Strathmore University with capacity to produce 0.6 megawatts, most of which will be used to light up the institution.

Strathmore has invested Sh132.6 million ($1.3 million) in the solar installation through a loan from the French Development Agency, repayable within five years at an interest of 4.1 per cent.

Strathmore signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with Kenya Power two weeks ago.

“This heightened level of activity in the energy sector offers Kenya Power a unique opportunity to expand its business considerably. These agreements lay the necessary framework for Kenya Power to increase its installed generation capacity which currently stands at 2,298 megawatts,” said Kenya Power’s managing director Ben Chumo.

ELDORET SOLAR PROJECTS

Mr Njoroge says the construction of two proposed solar projects in Eldoret with a combined capacity of 80 megawatts is set to begin at the end of this year.

Details of the Solienke and Cedata power plants remain undisclosed but the investors behind the projects are said to be finalising financing deals to pave way for commencement of construction.

“We have received many proposals for solar power projects. There are two projects that will be based in Eldoret whose construction is scheduled to start at the end of this year,” said Mr Njoroge.

Lack of adequate supply of power to meet demand coupled with expensive forms of energy such as thermal and emergency power account for high energy costs that have made the country less attractive to investors compared to its peers on the continent.

HYDRO RESOURCES

Both solar and wind account for less than one per cent of the country’s energy mix even as they are billed to be renewable sources of cheap electricity which are readily available in the country.

In the past, heavy reliance on hydro resources has left the country exposed during dry spells leading to increased consumption of diesel driven thermal power leading to a rise in power bills.

Geothermal is currently the largest source of electricity accounting for 50 per cent of the total generation followed by hydro at 38 per cent, according to data from the ministry of energy and petroleum.

The government is targeting to reduce reliance on thermal generators by developing wind and solar energy plants and signing up independent power producers to set up generation plants that rely on alternative sources of energy such as coal.