Access to electricity is a central building block for socio-economic development. It empowers communities to increase income and productivity, gain access to healthcare and education and enhance water and food security.
By FAITH KOSGEI
To end all forms of poverty, and fight inequalities, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016. One of the goals is universal access to electricity by 2030. Kenya has brought this forward to year 2020. If Kenya achieves this goal, it will have electrified faster than the US, which took more than two decades before achieving 95 per cent connectivity in rural America. Kenya aims to achieve the same in seven years. This is ambitious.
“In three years, we have more than doubled households connected to the national grid from 2.2million in 2013 to 5.05million,” Mr Charles Keter, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy told a conference in Nairobi recently. “We have essentially achieved in three years what we had not achieved in 90 years,” the minister added.
Some commentators question the government’s rational in prioritising access to electricity. These critics say poor Kenyans have more pressing priorities. Usually, such criticism comes from those who already have access to electricity.
Electricity is a lifestyle changer and it is more affordable than other sources of energy especially for lighting and other light domestic uses such as charging cell phones, radio and TV sets.
As an example, a shopkeeper in rural Kenya charges KSh 10 to charge a cellphone for a customer. A customer will charge a phone at least twice a week. That works to KSh 20 a week or KSh80 in a month. A litre of kerosene goes for about KSh65 according to the latest price index by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). The same customer will buy kerosene worth at least KSh 200 per month to light a tin lamp. That works to an energy bill of KSh280. If the same customer has to buy batteries for his radio, his monthly energy bill will be about KSh400 per month. This is more than what an average low income household spends on electricity in a month.
Apart from saving on money, electricity lighting provides a better and healthier source of light compared to kerosene powered lamps or firewood which emit smoke and light at the same time.
Access to electricity is a central building block for socio-economic development. It empowers communities to increase income and productivity, gain access to healthcare and education, enhance water and food security and improve general well-being. Electricity enables economic activities such as chicken farming which requires lighting 24 hours in a day and dairy farming where farms can use machines to milk cows. It also improves green house farming because farmers can use sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and other variables in a green house.
An expensive affair
To achieve universal access, Kenya has to overcome the challenge of extending its national electricity grid to the entire country. This is a very expensive undertaking. To go around this, the government has initiated the Kenya Off-Grid Solar Access Project (KOSAP). The KSh15 billion project will be implemented in 14 arid counties which make up 72 per cent of the country’s land mass but where only 20 per cent of Kenyans live.
KOSAP has a mini-grid component for communities. The mini-grids will be developed through public-private-partnerships where private investors and public funds will finance the mini-grids. The grids will be powered by a combination of solar panels, battery storage and thermal units running on diesel. Another component is stand alone solar system for households. The component will provide incentives for solar off grid companies currently operating in more densely populated areas to expand to undeserved counties and provide services to the off-grid households in these countries.
A third component of KOSAP will support a transition from low-efficiency cooking stoves to cleaner, higher efficiency improved stoves. Other components include stand alone solar systems to energise community facilities such as boreholes, schools, health, and shopping centres. KOSAP is funded by the World Bank and will be implemented by Kenya Power, and the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) which are government agencies under the Ministry of Energy.
Another initiative to achieve universal access is the Last Mile project being implemented by Kenya Power. The project has so far been funded to the tune of KSh 62.5 billion by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank, the Agence France de development (AFD) & the European Union (EU), and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
In the first phase of the project, people living within 600 metres of existing transformers and are not connected to the grid will be connected in one operation – i.e. when the works on a specific transformer starts, all the people within that reach will be connected. This is called the transformer maximization phase. In other phases of the project, low voltage lines and new transformers will be installed.
Faith Kosgei is a Communication Officer at the State Department of Energy and Petroleum.