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  • Benadette Wambui

Energy use in Kenya - The opportunity for Solar

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

The energy used in Kenya mainly comes from wood fuel, petroleum and electricity. The informal sector, the urban poor and rural households provide for most of their fundamental need for energy with wood fuel. 68% of the energy consumption, in total, is from biomass (mostly wood fuel), petroleum 22%, electricity 9% and all the others explain the remaining 1%. 36% of the population have access to electricity. The energy mix producing electricity is approximately 57% hydropower, 32% thermal (fossil fuel) and the remaining is geothermal and emergency thermal power.

Wind power and solar PV constitutes a small part of the energy sources and is less than 1%. The total installed energy capacity in the country is 2.3 GW. The electricity capacity of the connected grid is about 1.429 GW. It costs to connect to the national grid, about 35000 Ksh (319 EUR). And, after that, the electricity service costs 0.1145 EUR per kWh. The costs are high; the prices make it a problem to expand the electricity connections to poor areas and smaller businesses.

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.

Creating awareness on solar energy

Consumer education is one of the key challenges , particularly in rural areas. Awareness about available energy options and their benefits needs to be increased. In addition, the hazards involved with using fossil fuels such as diesel and paraffin also need to be brought to people’s attention. The marketing of solar products to end users has also been limited. This is partly because there is a shortage of entrepreneurial capacity in the energy sector, particularly in rural areas. Finally, there is the issue of substandard products in the market which result in users not trusting the technology. A study on LED torches in East Africa found that 90% of the users experienced quality related problems during the six-month study period.

Importance of creating awareness on solar energy

An example from a neighbour is useful. Rwanda is one of the countries with a very high number of people living in the rural areas, which stands at 45%. It had only 6% of its total population connected to electricity in 2009 and faced acute shortage of electricity. In a bid to solve this, the Rwandese government in collaboration with the World Bank, introduced a strategy which was dubbed Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy that aimed to increase connections to the grid by 70%. They also used CFL (company fluorescent lamps) lamps to make energy use more efficient and to encourage people to access the original CFL lamps they had to raise awareness of the existence of the fake CFL bulbs.

Raising awareness was done to sensitize people to understand why the bulbs were important even if they were expensive. It also was to encourage citizens to reduce the use of biomass which was popular in the rural areas. The project together with raising awareness helped Rwanda receive carbon credits from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2012. Demand for power also reduced and more households were connected leading to increased rate of economic development. (The World Bank, 2014).

Therefore, raising awareness on solar energy will have positive feedback as people will be able to understand the importance of having renewable energy in their households. These will enable more solar energy use and less carbon emissions will occur hence saving on the economy and saving the environment. 75% of Kenyan population is not aware or has a negative perception towards solar energy and about the benefits of solar energy hence the low rate of solar energy consumption in the country. The shortage of solar technicians around the country due to lack of professional training to equip technicians with the much needed skills. The stakeholders talked about lack of finances as an enabler in purchasing solar equipment in the country, long processes in acquiring loans and high interest rates make it almost impossible for people to address this issue of finances. Government bureaucracies in license application also hinder investors from putting up solar energy power plants in Kenya. The process of applying for a license takes longer than expected due to corruption and many officers approve the papers for independent power producers in the country. Kenyans have actually started showing interest in using solar energy and HURU Schools' Solar Energy Certificate is a step forward in training relevant technicians to expand this ubiquitous form of energy.

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