Kenya: Solar Energy May Be Just What Kenya Needs for Industrial Take-Off
When President Uhuru Kenyatta reconstituted the Rural Electrification Authority board recently and appointed me chairman, I joined a team that was committed to enhancing the authority's contribution towards achieving Kenya's development goals.
We are faced with a number of questions on how best to do this, including what we can do to ensure Kenya exploits its solar energy and how the country is faring in the use of solar energy, compared with other countries.
In answering these questions, we began by focusing on the basic logic that informed the establishment of REA, which was to ensure Kenyans in the rural areas are given a chance to access electricity for their advancement. That is why REA has embarked on the one-solar-panel-per-home campaign in regions that are far from the national grid.
Doing this will also place Kenya in the global family of nations committed to improving the lives of their people at a manageable costs. That is why the government, through REA and other related agencies, is partnering with key players in the sector to ensure rural electrification by solar technology actually happens.
A section of the media recently reported that some of the world's leading entrepreneurs, including Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, Jacqueline Navogratz of Acumen, and Strive Masiyiwa, were in Kenya offering to invest massively in the production of solar energy.
The Kenya government is also strategising on how best to benefit from the US-based Millennium Challenge Corporation, whose benefits have so for a long time eluded Kenya.
Similarly, Ubbink, a Naivasha-based company that manufactures solar panels, has indicated that the cost for each panel will go down significantly if many Kenyans bought them. This is, of course, in line with the basic economic principle of a high stock turnover impacting favourably on production and marketing costs.
The government is therefore determined to ensure each rural household has a solar panel within the next five years. Already, plans to launch a 50 megawatts solar plant in Garissa are at an advanced stage. The move is expected light up the region and make it more attractive to investors.
If the same can be extended to other parts of the country, then the trickle-down effect in other sectors of the economy will be massive and may lead to the final take-off into industrialisation as envisaged in our Vision 2030.
Indeed, it is possible to set up wind farms in many parts of the country to harness energy and thus will ease the pressure on other energy sources we have been relying on.
If this is not enough inspiration, we only need to look at what Germany has done in the matter of solar energy. A country that is smaller than Kenya and with only about three months of sunshine per year, Germany produces a total of 35.2 terawatt in hours, currently the highest in the world. Surely, Kenya can do much more with all the sunshine all year round.
It is important, therefore, that key players, from business people to consumers, play their part to support government efforts in ensuring a greater uptake of solar technology.
Importantly, we need to encourage our youth polytechnics and related institutions to offer training in solar technology to create a pool of young Kenyans who have the know how. This will create skills to deal with solar technology.
All these require urgent intervention by county governments in supporting village polytechnics. We are happy some governors are embracing this solar technology. Indeed, the 50 megawatts plant in Garissa is a development we should all be proud of.
The costs associated with solar energy will go down as the benefits will spread if many Kenyans can install solar panels in their homes and business premises.
If the media can lead in the campaigns for a greater acceptance of solar technology, individuals, groups and the corporates will certainly feel impelled to join in the efforts.
Indeed, our appeal is for all Kenyans to embrace the solar energy technology, not just for the direct power, but also for the other advantages that it has over other sources of power.
Solar replenishes more and faster and it is also less harmful to the environment because it does not emit fumes the way generators do. Solars do not also depend on erratic water levels the way hydro sources do. This means there is a lot to be gained by harnessing solar energy.