The climate change debate has sparked the growth of renewable energy advancements throughout many of the African countries. In Kenya, just like other developing and emerging economies throughout the world, both economic growth and energy demand are on the rise. The prevailing energy supply, however, is not keeping up with demand. Renewables are expected to meet part of this energy gap by reducing energy poverty, contribute to climate change mitigation and diminishing exposure to climate change vulnerability. The potential to develop various forms of renewable energy is facing numerous challenges, including insufficient data availability, high initial capital costs, low awareness of the potential opportunities and economic benefits, lack of adherence to system standards by suppliers, lack of technical capacity and provision of back up services. By no means, though, is this situation exclusive to Kenya.
Kenya’s National Energy Policy is designed “to facilitate provision of clean, sustainable, affordable, reliable and secure energy services at least cost while protecting the environment.” To reduce its reliance on the highly volatile international oil market, the government of Kenya’s Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) Investment Plan aims to increase its dependence on sustainable renewables in addition to hydroelectricity which, until now, has been the most developed renewable resource in the country.
Kenya’s Renewable Energy Potential
Kenya’s government has provided a regulatory and institutional framework for energy development through the preparation of Sessional Paper No. 4 of 2004, enactment of the Energy Act of 2006 and finalization of the National Energy Policy. Additionally in 2008, the Ministry of Energy introduced a feed-in tariff policy for renewable energy sources, including wind, small hydropower, and bioenergy. Later in 2010, the government updated this policy to include geothermal, solar, and biogas resources. To identify priority areas of intervention in line with the devolution of energy services to the levels within the country, a database of renewable energy technologies is being explored. The Ministry of Energy in November 2013 sought consultancy services for undertaking a survey on renewable energy technologies in the counties of Nakuru, Meru and Kakamega. The overall objective of the study was to establish the extent to which renewable energy forms are to be utilized and accessible to Kenyans. Covering solar PV, solar thermal, biogas, firewood, charcoal, bioethanol, small hydro power, fireless cookers and their associated technologies, it is envisioned that the survey will be replicated throughout the remaining African countries. Such a database will be GIS-based and updatable for the purpose of monitoring the impact of projects implemented by the Ministry.
Across the world, national and sub-national governments are implementing policies and providing financial incentives for clean energy development. The Clean Energy Solutions Centre and the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy have recognized that it becomes more difficult for consumers, businesses, researchers, and policymakers to determine how they will impact clean energy projects as the number of policies and incentives grow, supported by a study on Developing an Online Database of National and Sub-national Clean Energy Policies. Whereas some countries have policies like India’s Indian Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy Database (IREEED) and the US’ Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), developing countries have a soft landing entry point in creating a ‘low carbon-friendly’ investment and financing environment to support sustainable energy development.
The International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG) estimates that today, about 1 in 5 people live in energy poverty. Whereas the international community is largely driving the priorities of investments in clean renewable energy–especially in developing countries–domestic actors, their interests and institutions ultimately determine how the transition will be accomplished. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network has supported work on the climate compatible development (CCD) in Kenya’s energy sector and its political economy whose analysis “usefully illustrates the conflicts, trade-offs and opportunities of simultaneously trying to reconcile poverty, mitigation and adaptation policy objectives”. News of recent oil and gas discoveries have generated a lot of excitement due to the potential to slow down investment in renewable energy, thus the country’s low carbon competitiveness is undoubtedly going to be affected.
While Africa is currently witnessing its economy grow at a rate enviable to the rest of the world’s sub-regions, it is important to maintain this momentum by enhancing our competitiveness through gains made from renewable energy advancements. The pursuit of carbon-neutral growth spurs numerous positive impacts to national development goals such as increasing energy security, improving the overall heath and economic output of the populace, increasing industrial efficiency and productivity, providing new economic opportunities and employment, and contributing to the overall green house gas emissions reduction targets. Green growth thus promotes wider sustainable development benefits helping address pressures related to economic growth, urbanization and resource usage. This type of inclusive and vibrant green economy is needed in Africa since most of the future growth in greenhouse gas emissions is expected to come from developing and emerging economies.