Inside Kenya’s small-scale renewable energy revolution

Peter Lugaria

Picture: Science in HD | Unslash

Demand for solar energy in Kenya has risen over the past few years as domestic and commercial clients embrace installation of solar power systems to beat the high cost of electricity in the country.

According to electricity distributor Kenya Power, a growing number of its industrial customers – who account for nearly 55% of its sales revenues have shifted to own-generated solar power, dealing a major blow to its already declining incomes.

Domestic consumers are also embracing solar power installation with the 2019 census report putting solar lighting uptake in Kenya homes at 19.3%, which is equivalent to about 2.3 million homes.

Indeed, rural areas reported 29.9% uptake of solar lighting – higher than the rural national grid connection that stood at 26% during the August 2019 census.

Kenya, which is located right on the equator, is endowed with yearlong supply of ample sunshine which makes it easy to operate both small-scale and large-scale solar power systems within the country.

Patrick Mbugua, the GM of Wildfire Flowers, which recently installed a 154Kw solar plant at its farm in Naivasha, says the shift has helped them to reduce their dependence on grid power, which is expensive.

“Payback period is four years and the guarantee for the solar panels is 20 years, meaning we will be getting free power from the fifth year onwards,” Mr Mbugua said.

Reliable power supply

Wildfire Flowers is following in the footsteps of companies, factories and educational institutions that have shifted to solar photovoltaic (PV) grid-tied systems for cheaper and reliable power supply.

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), Garden City Mall, and the Africa Logistics Properties (ALP) have lately commissioned solar power plants at their premises.

In September 2018, Icipe commissioned two solar PV power plants that were installed at its premises in Kasarani, Nairobi, and on the shores of Lake Victoria at a cost of Sh275 million.

In the same month, Solarcentury installed a 506 kilowattpeak (kWp) hybrid solar PV at ALP’s flagship development at Tatu City in Ruiru. The logistics firm hopes to save Sh12 million a year in power bills.

Thika Road-based Garden City Mall has installed a Sh209 million solar carport with a capacity to produce 1,256 megawatt hours yearly from the 3,300 solar panels mounted on the uppermost car park shade.

The solar carport is helping Garden City to save about Sh31.6 million annually.

Cut energy costs

London Distillers Ltd has also installed 1 MWp roof solar system at its factory in Athi River, helping it to offset the need for grid power and cut energy costs by at least Sh18.4 million a year.

Williamson Tea has equally made the shift by installing a 1MW solar farm in Changoi Tea Factory in Bomet, slashing its energy bills by 30%.

Strathmore University (SU) and Kenyatta University (KU) are leading universities in shifting to renewable energy. In 2014, SU installed a 600Kw roof top PV solar plant at its main campus in Madaraka Estate to power its operations and earn some income by offloading excess power to the national grid.

In December 2018, KU switched on the first phase of its upcoming Sh1.7bn solar plant that will help it generate electricity for its operations with the excess power offloaded to the national grid.

Earlier this year, Ecobank signed a deal with Distributed Power Africa to install solar power systems in its seven branches across the country as it seeks cheaper and reliable power supply.

Two Rivers Mall on Limuru Road, Bidco, and Total are already on solar, with entities such as Mombasa International Airport and Kapa Oil Refineries reportedly lining up to join the solar movement.

1,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide

Mombasa International Airport is scheduled to install a ground-mounted 500 KW solar PV system, which is expected to generate 820,000 kWh per year and offset 1,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Kapa Oil Refineries plans to install a 1.5 MW PV grid-tied system for internal use.

Interestingly, Kenya Power has also joined the solar movement. The company says it will contract private firms to install solar panels for interested customers under a design-build-finance and operate model.

“KPLC will undertake the role of project development by liaising with interested commercial and industrial customers who will provide rooftop space or ground space for installation of the PV (photovoltaic) modules,” Kenya Power said in a recent press statement.

“A private sector investor will then be selected competitively through a request for proposal (RFP) to develop and operate the grid tied captive solar plants at the customer premises.”

The electricity distributor will then sell the generated power at a discounted rate to the owners of the premises hosting the solar plant. Excess power will be sold to adjacent customers at regular rates.

The solar plant will remain the property of Kenya Power and the private firms installing them.

This article first appeared on Construction Kenya and is re-published with permission. Link to the original article.