UK-Kenya Renewable Energy Conference

October 7, 2016


Kenya’s renewable energy sector is on the cusp of big things. With a Government committed to a 5000Mw plan by 2017; an established feed-in-tariff; and an increasing demand for electricity as industrialisation continues at pace, the conditions are set for geothermal, wind and solar power to take off in a big way.

Two main forces are driving this change.

First is the enviable economic growth that Kenya has enjoyed in recent years, and is forecast to maintain in the future.

Rapid economic growth will drive greater demand for power: from businesses, to produce goods and services; and from consumers as they buy more TVs, fridges, freezers and other goods.

Kenya already has a renewable-rich energy mix, and is looking to continue this.

The second driver is that global climate change policy is stimulating increased take up of renewable energy around the world. This is leading to extraordinary and enormous economies of scale and efficiencies.

Last year the Paris climate negotiations sent a clear message to the world – to governments, to businesses, investors and citizens – that the future is low carbon. It created a surge in market demand for renewable energy.

You would expect rising demand to drive prices up. But technology and innovation are doing the opposite, so increasing demand further. In the world of computers we’re familiar with Moore’s law: namely that processing speeds for computers will double every two years, with prices falling. We’re seeing something similar in renewables. 30 years ago, wind turbines were generally rated around 50kw. 15 years ago we were getting used to 2000kw (2Mw) turbines. Now, in the North Sea, we’re expecting 8Mw monsters offshore.

Prices are falling similarly: solar panels now make up less than half the cost of the average PV installation. My Deputy High Commissioner is still fuming at the £13,000 he paid to put 4kw on his roof in 2011 – something that might now cost only £5,000. Offshore wind costs are another example of this. The UK agreed a strike price of £140 per Mw/hour for offshore wind as recently as 2014. In the Netherlands the most recent auction saw suppliers coming forward to supply offshore wind for just £70 per Mw/hour.

As a result of these changes, the UK now has three times more offshore wind – over 5000 Mw – than the entire generating capacity of the Kenyan grid. UK installed solar capacity – and let’s face it, the UK isn’t a sunny country – is over 10Gw – a 1400% increase on as recent as 2011.

As innovation pushes costs down, the implications for Kenya are clear. Renewables will not simply be environmentally beneficial, but economically advantageous. In time, they will push out hydrocarbons.

The UK and Kenya are together at the vanguard of this renewable energy, clean technology and innovation revolution. Kenya has one of the most active renewable energy sectors in Africa – second only to South Africa in terms of investment. The UK is a global leader in many of the sectors for which Kenya has greatest demand, as well as leading the way in innovative new technology such as wave power, tidal stream, pump storage and grid-scale flow batteries.

Kenya has set ambitious targets to boost its energy mix as part of the Energy Pillar in Vision 2030. As it continues to strive with regional competitors like Ethiopia, it wants to keep energy costs down. Renewables will enable this. And UK companies should be at the heart of this. From project development to design, finance and investment, legal and security, R&D and consulting; to grid development, transmission and distribution – UK companies have the expertise to help Kenya achieve success.

The energy market of tomorrow will – and must – look fundamentally different to yesterday. Out goes an industry dominated by giant utilities; a monopoly of centralised energy models. In comes a new, diverse market; driven by innovation, with an entrepreneurial, dynamic set of market participants. Put simply, new actors, new investors, new technology.

Let me say something about how all this connects to Kenya’s development agenda, of which the UK is such a strong supporter. A reliable electricity supply is one of the most powerful tools for helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Yet two out of three people in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently living without electricity access.

Twenty years ago, there was a nine month wait in Kenya for a monopoly provided land telephone line. Then Safaricom arrived on the scene. In just ten years we have seen a total transformation of the way in which Kenyans communicate – the mobile revolution. Now we need – and I am convinced that we will see – a similar revolution in access to affordable clean energy over the next ten years.

This will require governments, investors and aid agencies to tear down regulatory barriers and attract new finance. It will require us to develop markets where lower costs for renewable energy filter through to consumers because of genuine competition between suppliers.

The private sector has an opportunity to show the way in turning development challenges into business opportunities. A few years ago, seed funding from UK Aid working with Vodaphone and Safaricom helped create a mobile payment platform called M-PESA. Today that platform processes nearly half of Kenyan GDP, and means three in four Kenyans have access to the financial system.

This is the kind of country where those transformational things can be done. Let’s work together to make them happen.

Dipo Olowookere

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan.

Mr Olowookere can be reached via [email protected]

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