Remarks from field research on sustainable energy in Kenya




This spring I have familiarised myself with the Kenyan energy sector and managed to gather a good amount of data for my master’s thesis on urban energy transitions. The field research period in Kenya is now coming to an end and I feel incredibly grateful for having been provided with the opportunity to work on my thesis on such a fascinating topic.

There are major differences between urban and rural energy in Kenya, especially when it comes to electricity. During the past decade, the nationwide focus has been on providing electricity access to off-grid areas. The dedicated efforts of the Rural Electrification Authority and international collaborators to power the rural areas of Kenya have been successful. In the recent years, the connectivity level has improved from around 30% to over 70% of the population, but access to electricity is still the primary concern when talking about energy in Kenya.

Nairobi – the capital of Kenya and the focus of my case study – is considered ‘well off’, because it is mostly covered by the national grid. Nairobi consumes more than a half of all electricity generated in the country, while the demand is rising with the rapidly increasing urban population and standard of living. Despite the decent level of electricity access, there is still room for improvement in the sustainability, reliability and affordability of energy in Nairobi. For instance, there are frequent power cuts and quality problems because of the unreliable and inefficient distribution infrastructure. Diesel generators are widely used to provide backup power, contributing to the pollution issues and the already unstable cost of electricity. Prices and supply have also fluctuated during droughts due to the reliance on hydropower, adding to the trickiness of providing clean, reliable and affordable electricity to an increasing number of urban dwellers. Meanwhile, effects of climate change are already further complicating matters.

Although overcoming the energy and sustainability challenges in Nairobi is still hindered by several factors, such as lack of cross-sector collaboration and long-term planning, there have been very promising recent advancements in the sustainable energy domain, including improvements in regulatory frameworks, availability of financing schemes and a number of initiatives on training and awareness creation.

Erika Forstén

Cover picture: Erika Forstén. Strathmore Energy Research Centre conducts research and quality assurance on solar PV products. There have been quality issues with imported solar PV products, but the situation is improving due to increased awareness and recent improvements in regulations and standards.

 

Ngong wind farm, located in the outskirts of Nairobi, is currently the only grid-connected wind power plant in Kenya. Recently a large wind power plant was built in Turkana, Northern Kenya, but the plant has been on standby because of delays in building the transmission line.