“Everything is energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is Physics” Albert Einstein.
In a quit literal sense, throughout the history of man, humanity has always revolved around energy, particularly as regards growth and development through innovation and access to opportunities. As opposed to popular thought of the previous decade, most African communities do not require millions of dollars worth of donations, and pity that previously defined donor funding initiatives from the West but rather a platform and capacity to implement self-initiated solutions for problems that plague them. One of the foundational problems that have long defined Sub-Saharan Africa has been access to energy alternatives that empower them.
Take Kenya for instance. According to government records in 2010, Kenya had an installed capacity of 2 GW of which about 57% was hydro power, about 32% was thermal and the rest comprised geothermal and emergency thermal power. Solar PV and Wind power played a minor role contributing less than 1%. However, hydropower has ranged from 38-76% of the generation mix due to poor rainfall. Thermal energy sources have been used to make up for these shortfalls, varying between 16-33% of the mix. In a more recent government study in 2015, it showed that Kenya’s current effective installed (grid connected) electricity capacity is 1,429 MW. Electricity supply is predominantly sourced from hydro and fossil fuel (thermal) sources. This generation energy mix comprises 52.1% from hydro, 32.5% from fossil fuels, 13.2% from geothermal, 1.8% from biogas cogeneration and 0.4% from wind, respectively. Current electricity demand is 1,191 MW and is projected to grow to about 2,500 MW by 2015 and 15,000 MW by 2030.
In order to meet this increasing demand, the country through its government developmental policy entitled, Vision 2030, aspires to gradually increase the country’s installed capacity to 19,200 MW by 2030. What this has done for the past half a decade in the country has been to accelerate the need for alternative energy solutions to help supplement the already strained mainstream energy solutions. Of the many alternatives that exist, Kenya has had specific interest in solar energy which has taken a foot-hole in the country becoming structured through government-regulated industry guidelines on outsourcing, implementation, and installation of solar solutions for powering the country. This has particularly become necessary given that it costs approximately Ksh 35,000 (EUR 318.18) to connect to the national grid and about 0.1145 EUR equivalent per kWh of electricity service. These are relatively high costs that pose a major obstacle to the expansion of electricity connections to low-income households and small businesses, which can therefore benefit from decentralized alternative sources of energy, such as solar.
However, solutions for energy are perhaps broader than we think, and that with innovation, different approaches may be made. MGI Consultants Kenya is among organizations in Kenya that are trying to provide alternative solutions that are not mainstream; out-of-the-box-sort-of-thinking. The organization has identified that one of the major difficulties is storage, as is the case with most needs analysis done for communities off the national grid. Another consideration is the lowering of the cost of solar panels, due to increased production and competition. In this regard, it is my considered view that we should start considering areas that are not in the West, in the first instance looking at the specific situations that we can address in the first place, be they urban or rural, small or large scale. This should then lead to a consideration of a priority list with discussions surrounding:
- Priority list of scenarios
- Understanding of available energy source(s)
- Understanding of demand
- Understanding of climate (if we are to consider solar and/or wind)
A major requirement has to shift towards education towards installation, maintenance, service which will be critical. For example, if there was a built-in process for scheduled testing and costing out the need for service and/or replacement of batteries, many tragic situations emanating from lack of electricity can be averted. It is in this regard, that I consider the establishment of a professional operation (private business, social enterprise or cooperative) that raises the level of competency and increases the availability of expertise in the areas of mechanicals, electronics and engineering as an innovative way of providing alternative energy solutions for the Kenyan market. This may be just the very approach that solves many problems across the country, increases the capabilities and opportunities of personnel. In fact, it may be able to implement action sooner than the delivery of new energy systems. With improved service provision to the Kenyan people, the domino effect of improved livelihoods that will definitely follow is uncontestable. By this, we may eventually come to realization and appreciation of Einstein’s assertion that indeed, “Everything is energy and that is all there is to it”.
Jacob Opara is the Country Manager, Webdays Kenya and Co-Founder MGI Consultants Kenya