Kenya’s decentralised renewable energy jobs on the rise – study

Over 48,000 jobs created in 2021 with more added this year.

In Summary

•Examples of decentralised energy systems include combined heat and power , waste plants, burning biomass, solar and energy or geothermal.

•Kenya currently ranks fifth in electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, with 75 percent of its population having access to electricity in 2021.

A Dala Rieko CBO solar project/
A Dala Rieko CBO solar project/

The Decentralised Renewable Energy (DRE) sector in Kenya has shown a strong rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic as it continues to create stable jobs, a study has shown. 

It is also delivering clean and affordable energy to the 25 per cent of the population living without access to electricity, a majority of whom are in remote rural areas.

A decentralised energy system allows for more optimal use of renewable energy as well as combined heat and power, reduces fossil fuel use and increases eco-efficiency.

Examples of decentralised energy systems include combined heat and power (CPH), waste plants, burning biomass, solar energy, and geothermal.

CHP is a technology that produces electricity and thermal energy at high efficiencies using a range of technologies and fuels.

DREs can serve a whole community, a building or a village.

According to the Power Jobs Census 2022:The Energy Access Workforce Kenya report, the country’s DRE sector which includes pico-solar appliances, solar home systems (SHS), and commercial and industrial standalone systems, created over 48,000 jobs in 2021 .

This is projected to reach 58,000 in 2023.

The country lost almost 3,000 DRE jobs in 2020 and 2021, mostly as a result of declining solar home systems sales during the global pandemic, and accompanying economic downturn and supply chain disruptions.

SHS sales are expected to bounce back by 2023, creating more employment opportunities.

The study by Power for All, the global campaign to end energy poverty, in collaboration with various partners in Kenya, examined the labor market for the DRE industry in five countries -Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.

It was supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, Good Energies Foundation, and the European Programme GET.invest and surveyed more than 350 companies across the five countries.

Of the five countries studied, Kenya ranked second to Nigeria in terms of post-pandemic recovery and DRE job growth.

The sector is expected to bounce back to its pre-pandemic employment numbers by the end of 2022, with total jobs projected to reach 53,000.

Kenya currently ranks fifth in electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, with 75 percent of its population having access to electricity in 2021—up from 36 percent in 2014, thanks to the growth of both grid-powered and solar-powered homes.

However, as in most African countries, there is a significant difference in electricity access between rural and urban populations.

While more than 94 per cent of people living in urban areas have electricity access, only 63 per cent of those living in rural areas do.

This is a result of the high costs of extending the national grid to remote rural areas.

In 2007 to address this issue, the Kenyan government created the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) with the aim of accelerating universal access to electricity.

This is through grid extension and the deployment of DRE technologies.

“The report findings demonstrate the viability of the DRE sector to help accelerate the country’s universal energy access agenda while addressing the high levels of unemployment, especially in rural areas,” Power for All’s campaigns and partnership manager, Anand Pathanjali, said.

Kenya is the most developed DRE market in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than a quarter of the total annual sales of solar home systems products in the region.

As the sector matures, large-scale commercial, industrial and mini-grid systems are expected to become increasingly important and major job creators.

"However, this growth is likely to be stymied due to the country’s ban on mini-grid development within a 15 kilometer radius of the national grid," the study notes.

Of the five countries surveyed, Kenya leads in the integration of women into the DRE workforce with 41 per cent of the employees being female.

This was a significant increase from the Powering Jobs Census 2019 data, in which the participation rate for women was 23 per cent.

On the other hand, the sector is behind the national average of 49 per cent, calling for increased efforts to bring more women into the sector and in more meaningful positions.

According to the survey, there was also a sizeable gender pay gap in the Kenyan DRE sector with women in the sector earning, on average, 78 per cent less than their male counterparts.

The study also identified the skills DRE company leaders want their staff to possess and calls for collaboration between various stakeholders—education institutions, technical and vocational education and training (TVET), government and DRE companies.

This is to support re-skilling and up-skilling to fully realise the sector’s potential to deliver modern energy (SDG 7), as well as good work and decent jobs (SDG 8).

"While Kenya has already made significant strides in attracting private investment for renewable energy projects, the government must continue supporting the development of DRE technologies to meet increasing electricity demand," Pathanjali said in a statement yesterday.

Relevant policies should aim for an integrated energy sector that leverages the benefits of both on-grid and off-grid technologies.

The Powering Jobs Census 2022 coordinated and led by Power for All is part of the #PoweringJobs campaign.

Across the world, centralised energy systems based on fossil fuels have been supported by large capital projects through state investments and loans (although many have private equity in the meantime).

This has led to higher energy prices, to a certain misalignment with the SDG (sustainable development goals).

It is also exposing countries to Energy Return on Investment (which is declining) risks supporting complex societies.

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