The pursuit of cleaner energy alternatives is an important issue that has garnered global attention. Many countries around the world have eagerly joined the renewable energy revolution. Kenya is among Africa’s leaders in pursuing green technologies, and the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) is an exciting step towards providing clean energy to citizens.

Africa boasts the highest reserves of renewable energy resources in the world, and the continent has enough renewable energy potential to meet its future energy needs.1 Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, cannot meet the demand, and rely on scheduled blackouts to alleviate the stress on their already struggling electricity grids. The Lake Turkana wind farm covers 40,000 acres (162km2) in Marsabit County, is the largest wind energy project in Africa.2 It has an estimated potential of 310 megawatts (MW) of wind power. The 310MW generated by LTWP is equivalent to approximately 18 per cent of Kenya’s current generating capacity, and will produce enough to power an additional one million Kenyan households.3

When the Lake Turkana wind farm was first proposed, it was met with scepticism. It is in one of Kenya’s most remote areas; about 600km from the capital, Nairobi. There were no paved roads anywhere near the lake and the nearest transmission grid was 428km away.4 The initial tests conducted around Lake Turkana yielded unfavourable results due to the extremely high wind speeds and unpredictability. After experimenting with several different areas around the lake, a desirable location was found between Mount Kulal and Mount Njiru. This valley provides an ideal average speed of 11.8 metres per second. Another benefit is that the wind between the two hills flows at consistent speeds and in a constant direction year round. These factors suggest a high potential for the LTWP to produce efficiently.

As of March 9th, 2017, the LTWP is ready to produce up to 33 per cent of its total capacity. The expected date of completion for the project is June of this year, and already 347 out of the 365 turbines have been constructed. The 310MW produced at Lake Turkana will significantly augment the nation’s supply. System overloads, high system losses (estimated at 19 per cent in mid-2016), and power outages are common, even with only a fraction of the population connected to the grid.5

The main obstacles for countrywide accessibility are the lack of supply, and the high cost of delivering electricity to rural areas and other locations not currently serviced by the national grid. For some people in the electrified cities, the costs are still too high to be considered accessible. The government of Kenya has been taking serious action to reduce the costs of electricity through energy reforms, and the encouragement of individual power producers.

 

The nation’s sole distributor of electricity, Kenya Power (KP), will buy the power produced from Lake Turkana at a fixed price over a 20-year period in accordance with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) signed with the government. The tariff rate will be Ksh8.6 (approximately US$0.08) per kWh as per the PPA.6 These tariffs were implemented by the Ministry of Energy7 to encourage development in the energy generation sector. Kenya Power holds a monopoly on the distribution of electricity, but the market for generation is becoming more open and competitive through the promotion of independent power projects. Increasing the supply and mandating power purchase agreements are necessary to make electricity more accessible and more to rural Kenya.

A common drawback to wind power is that wind speeds vary throughout the day, but Lake Turkana is the exception. The chairman of the LTWP, Mugo Kibati, explained that a typical wind farm in Europe would have a 25-35 per cent utilisation capacity, but Lake Turkana will have a 62 per cent utilisation capacity.8 The wind farm’s high efficiency will allow energy to be produced at twice the normal rate. This efficiency, coupled with the tariffs set out in the PPA, is needed to lower electricity costs.

The LTWP is an expensive endeavour, totalling about US$700 million.9 Initiatives of this magnitude require financial assistance through investments, risk guarantees, and subsidies. Kenya has made tremendous efforts in promoting green initiatives in recent years, and their success was made possible through targeted investments in both private and public sectors.10 The public sector has seen improvement through the increased participation of independent power producers, which account for about 24 per cent of the country’s installed capacity. Private investors have been a key component in the development of the electricity sector, and the trend continues with the LTWP being the largest foreign direct investment project in the country.11

The LTWP has received generous loans and investments from a consortium of international private organizations. The project stalled when the World Bank withdrew support over concerns that output would exceed demand. The African Development Bank then stepped in to lead the funding with 10 other international lenders. 12 Among the investors is KP&P Africa B.V. (Netherlands), Aldwych International Ltd. (UK), Finnfund (Finland), Norfund (Norway), and Investment Fund for Developing Countries and Vestas Wind Systems (Denmark).13 Google also invested heavily in the LTWP, with US$40 million purchasing a 12.5 per cent stake.14 Without the help of these international organizations, undertakings like the LTWP would not be feasible. It is crucial to the success of renewable energy development in Kenya, and the entire developing world, that countries and organizations continue to offer their assistance.

The Lake Turkana wind farm is only a partial answer to Kenya’s struggle with energy accessibility. According to an African Progress Panel report in 2015, there are over 30 million people in Kenya without access to electricity.15 Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for approximately 13 per cent of the world’s population, but it majorly contributes to the 48 per cent of the global population without access to electricity.16

The LTWP is not the only green initiative in Kenya. Clean and renewable energy is becoming cheaper through the rise of eco-entrepreneurial businesses providing inexpensive alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels. In an effort to combat the expensive and inaccessible electricity from the national grid, some innovative companies have created credit and pay-as-you-go systems for stand-alone solar systems sold to individual households.17

Solar power is Africa’s most abundant but least utilised source of energy generation. The potential capacity has been placed as high as 10 terawatts.18 Companies such as M-KOPA Solar and Azuri Technologies are capitalising on the abundance of irradiation in Africa and utilising it to benefit their customers.

M-KOPA Solar offers affordable solar technologies to off-grid villages through mobile technology.19 Customers pay a small deposit for a solar home system that includes a solar panel, three ceiling lights, a radio, and charging outlets for mobile phones. After installation, consumers make small instalments on a pay-as-you-use basis through a mobile payment platform named M-PESA. Once the balance is paid, customers own their systems outright.20 The payments are cheaper than the equivalent cost of using kerosene lamps or diesel generators.

Azuri Technologies follows a similar business model of an initial installation fee, followed by recurring payments until the balance is paid. Azuri provides home installation of a 2.5-watt solar module with battery, two LED lights, and a USB socket. After the US$10 fee for installation, Azuri utilises a pay-as-you-go system that costs approximately US$1.50 for weekly activation cards. After 18 months, users can pay US$5 to have their system permanently unlocked.21

Compared to the estimated cost of US$3 per week spent on kerosene lighting,22 M-KOPA and Azuri Technologies are cleaner and less expensive. These companies are offering appealing alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels that many Kenyan households rely on now, especially because the lighting they provide is renewable and emission-free. Customers living in rural areas of Kenya without grid access now have options for lighting that were unavailable before due to high costs. In addition to the inexpensive start-up cost, another huge benefit is that customers of both companies are able to own their systems after their balance is paid in full. This allows for a level of self-sufficiency previously unattainable by individual households.

 

Much has already been done to encourage the pursuit of clean and renewable energy, but more is still needed. Revolutionary technologies and innovative business models are transforming the potential for off-grid systems. Prices for solar home systems are falling, and the development of new payment systems is reducing the initial cost of market entry for poor households, while also making them self-sustaining in the future.23 Solar and wind generation is likely to see rapid price declines as technological developments in mature emerging markets and developed countries penetrate developing countries.24 Continued support from international organizations and foreign direct investment help to improve access and supply to the national grid. Eco-entrepreneurship in the form of companies like M-KOPA Solar and Azuri Technologies give millions of Kenyans hope for a brighter future.

Works Cited

1 Mukasa, A. D., Mutambatsere, E., Arvanitis, Y., & Triki, T. (2013). Development of Wind Energy in Africa. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from African Development Bank Group: https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/Working%20Paper%20170%20-%20Development%20of%20Wind%20Energy%20in%20Africa.pdf

2 African Development Bank Group. (2015). Lake Turkana Wind Power Project: The largest wind farm project in Africa. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from AfDB: https://www.afdb.org/en/projects-and-operations/selected-projects/lake-turkana-wind-power-project-the-largest-wind-farm-project-in-africa/

3 Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. (n.d.). The Project Overview. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Lake Turkana Wind Power: http://ltwp.co.ke/ (a)

4 Mutiga, M., & Smith, D. (2015). Africa’s largest windfarm set to connect remote Kenya to the grid. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/09/africas-largest-windfarm-set-to-connect-remote-kenya-to-the-grid. (a)

5 Owino, T., Kamphof, R., Kuneman, E., van Tilburg, X., van Schaik, L., & Rawlins, J. (2016). Towards a ‘green’ trajectory of economic growth and energy security in Kenya? The Clingendael Institute. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International ‘Clingendael’ Relations. (a)

6 Lake Turkana Wind Power. (2017). Lake Turkana ready to inject 33 percent of the agreed power into the national grid. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Lake Turkana Wind Power: http://ltwp.co.ke/lake-turkana-ready-to-inject-33-percent-of-the-agreed-power-into-the-national-grid/

7 Norton Rose Fullbright. (2013, 07). Investing in the African electricity sector. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Norton Rose Fullbright: http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/knowledge/publications/100605/investing-in-the-african-electricity-sector#section3

8 Mutiga, M., & Smith, D. (2015). Africa’s largest windfarm set to connect remote Kenya to the grid. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/09/africas-largest-windfarm-set-to-connect-remote-kenya-to-the-grid. (b)

9 Fleming, P. (2016). Africa’s Green Energy Challenge: Mega projects, off-grid or somewhere in between? Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Ensia: https://ensia.com/features/africa-energy/

10 National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). (2012). Green Initiatives in Kenya. Nairobi: National Enivornment Management Authority.

11 Owino, T., Kamphof, R., Kuneman, E., van Tilburg, X., van Schaik, L., & Rawlins, J. (2016). Towards a ‘green’ trajectory of economic growth and energy security in Kenya? The Clingendael Institute. The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International ‘Clingendael’ Relations. (b)

12 Guguyu, O. (2015). Lake Turkana power farm to produce 90 megawatts next year. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Daily Nation: http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Turkana-wind-farm-to-produce-90MW-next-year/996-2882622-a4p2w4/index.html

13 Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. (n.d.). The Project Overview. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Lake Turkana Wind Power: http://ltwp.co.ke/ (b)

14 Daily Nation. (2015). Google to invest Sh4bn in Lake Turkana Wind Power project. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from Daily Nation: http://www.nation.co.ke/business/Google-to-invest-Sh4bn-in-Turkana-wind-power/996-2924052-urrsgd/index.html

15 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (a)

16 Castellano, A., Kendall, A., Nikomarov, M., & Swemmer, T. (2015). Powering Africa. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from McKinsey & Company: http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/powering-africa. (a)

17 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (b)

18 Castellano, A., Kendall, A., Nikomarov, M., & Swemmer, T. (2015). Powering Africa. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from McKinsey & Company: http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/powering-africa. (b)

19 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (c)

20 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (d)

21 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (e)

22 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (f)

23 Africa Progress Panel. (2015). Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Africa Progress Panel. (g)

24 International Renewable Energy Agency. (2015). Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014. IRENA.

Tags:
Chris Shantz
About Author: Chris Shantz
Christopher Shantz is an international relations and political analyst from Canada. He enjoys research, travel, and photography.