On Tuesday, a technical problem faced by one of Kenya Power’s major transmission lines plunged large parts of the country into darkness. This loss of power, while not new, caused a lot of online clamour against the Kenya Power, particularly as a result of its severity. Numerous business owners complained of the loss of business, suffered as a result of lack of power. This event, once again brings to the fore the significance of electricity to our economy.
Lack of access to electricity is widely debated as being a major hindrance to development in Africa, with an estimated 600 million people lacking access to the 21st century basic need. As noted by analysts, inadequate infrastructure in Africa, of which power infrastructure performs a crucial role, greatly hampers economic activity, curtails efficiency, and impedes effective competition. It is with this in mind that the Government of Kenya has channelled resources toward ensuring that universal electricity connectivity is achieved by 2020. To this effect, KPLC notes that as at the first quarter of 2017, household connections to the national grid stood at 63 per cent of the national coverage, placing the power authority on track to achieve the targeted 95% connectivity by 2020.
In its pursuit of the above, the power authority has been noted to favour on-grid solutions over off-grid solutions. On-grid solutions require the extension of the national grid, and ensure that homes are connected directly to the national grid. This requires extensive and costly development as transmission and distribution lines are canvassed across Kenya. However, despite the on-grid focus, the Rural Electrification Authority has proposed plans to utilise off-grid solutions to power areas that are considered too far off from the existing network. The aim here is to ensure that areas not on the grid network also have access to electricity as the grid network is extended, a time consuming initiative.
Counties considered as being off the grid network, particularly Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana and Garissa have been earmarked as being recipients of off-grid power through solar minigrids. Further, plans are underway to construct a 55MW solar power plant in Garissa which will take advantage of the sunshine experienced in the county. This power plant will initially serve Garissa County but further plans are underway to feed this power to the National Grid.
Here lies the allure of off-grid electricity solutions. Not only do they take advantage of the renewable energy sources available to Kenya, such as solar and wind, but further, should they be designed with universal grid network penetration in mind, they can easily be connected to the grid network at a future date. This ensures that access to electricity is prioritised in the short term, whilst opening up the possibility of expanding the country’s generational capacity in the long run.