The just concluded National Energy Conference held in Kenya last week is a clear indication of rising concern in the energy sector as the need for adequate and reliable energy continues to bite hard. The three day conference organized by Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) and the Ministry of Energy saw experts from the private sector, government,civil society, academia and the media brainstorm on a comprehensive action plan for expansion of energy sources.
A first of its kind, the conference was mandated by President Mwai Kibaki, who opened it, to come up with concrete proposals that will ensure Kenya gains access to reliable and reasonably priced energy in the short and long term.
Kenya is currently struggling with a serious energy crisis precipitated by the spiraling price of petroleum which has pushed up transport and food costs, fuelling inflation. The country's over-reliance on hydro-electric power whose capacity has severely been reduced due to adverse climatic conditions, and failure to invest in alternative sources of energy is not only undermining the performance of the Kenyan economy, but also making vision 2030 a myth.
Despite undertaking significant policy and institutional reforms aimed at liberalizing and deregulating electricity and petroleum sub sectors to enhance operational efficiency and open up space for private sector participation since 1990, the energy sector in Kenya has remained imperfect. The private sector investments are too low while the energy supply and distribution infrastructure remain weak and unreliable as noted by the Minister for Energy, Kiraitu Murungi.
Kenya gets over 60 per cent of its electricity from dams, a third is fuel-generated and the rest comes from geothermal power. This is a clear indication of laxity of the government and private sector to exploit other energy sources to increase power generation in the country. The conference outlined the vast energy sources in Kenya and laid out resolutions that the Kenyan government should implement to avert the inflationary pressures being felt across the economy as a result.
The conference deliberations revealed that Kenya can indeed tap into other sources of renewable energy rather than depend on sources whose energy capacity generation cannot meet the demand. Geothermal energy is estimated to have an energy potential of 7000 MW and only 130 MW has been developed. While there are other power plants of 35 MW under construction, the Kenyan government needs to drill 42 steam wells to support the planned development of geothermal power at a cost of US$ 5.5 million. However, the Kenyan government can only drill 17 while the other additional 25 wells will need Kshs 10 billion.
The government should realize that it is much cheaper to invest in geothermal stream production to generate electricity than using fossil fuels. This is because a 140 MW fuel oil fired medium speed diesel plant would consume 548,000 tones of fuel after two and a half years at a cost of Kshs 17 billion. The same amount of money on the other hand would be spent to sink 42 geothermal wells needed to run a 140 MW power plant. It is cheaper to operate a geothermal power plant than a similar diesel plant in terms of fuel costs.
Coal is another source of energy that Kenya can adopt. It was revealed that the country has very good quality coal and the government is undertaking coal exploration in Mui basin located in Kitui and Mwingi districts. Of over 35 wells drilled, 20 showed presence of various quantities of high quality coal. An appraisal drilling to establish the extent of the reserve and commercial viability of the coal deposits has been contracted and the government is planning to start a program for coal exploration in Karoo belt of the coast province. Negotiations are underway to start a coal fired electricity generating plant in Mombasa. These are long term investments that African countries should adopt and benefit from their resources.
A national wind atlas produced by the ministry of energy in 2001 contains high resolution wind and solar energy resources data which can assist planners and investors to make informed investment decisions to exploit this resource.
Potential for bio-fuel and cogeneration is also very high in Kenya. This is through the sugar industry, farming sector. The local sugar companies have potential to generate 300 MW of power from large quantities of bagasse which they produce each year. Mumias Sugar Company, Kenya’s leading white sugar miller is self sufficient in power production and sells its surplus of 2 MW to Kenya Power and Lighting Company and is planning to commission a new 34 MW power plant early next year.
Nuclear energy wasn’t left out in the deliberations. A legal and regulatory framework was agreed upon to be established to guide the exploration of nuclear power. Though some experts were skeptic on this alternative on grounds that the country is far from harnessing high tech energy sources, it is a welcome move that shows readiness to plunge into unknown waters to ensure energy needs are met.
The Minister indicated that an investor had approached his office with plans to build a nuclear plant in Kenya though Dr Fredrick Toth, a senior energy economist at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “Kenya is in serious need of fast expansion, but it will take 10 to 15 years for a nuclear plant to be productive,”. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka on the other hand was optimistic and said the government would invest in training nuclear scientists in the next seven years.
“It’s good for Kenya to dream and we should not be afraid about it. It’s time for Kenya to think out of the box,” said the energy minister.
The conference agreed that an Energy council be established to work out an action plan for expanding energy sources in the next 20 years. A task force will also be formed to review the energy act and harmonize it to accommodate new power sources like nuclear, wind, biofuels and solar energy.
Public private sector partnerships were encouraged to meet budget deficits to some of the power projects as the government would offer incentives to encourage investments through exploring innovative financing schemes like stoke markets, independent power producers and competitive borrowing. The financial experts however warned the current credit crunch in America Europe and Asia would make borrowing more expansive from external sources.
The Kenyan government which has committed itself to fund a power transmission company is a perfect example of how Africans are willing to explore various options available to utilize their resources for their benefit. Let other African governments, more so those that mine oil capitalize on their resources for the benefit of their people. It is about time.
By Monicah Kimeu
Monicah writes for The African Executive
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