Low Carbon Energy Development in Kenya

The climate change debate which until the last decades of the 20th century was a fairly new concept has really sparked the growth of renewable forms of energy among many of the countries here in Africa. In Kenya just like any other developing and emerging economy, economic growth and energy demand are rising simultaneously but the prevailing energy supply is not keeping up with demand. Renewables are thus expected to meet part of this energy gap being driven by urbanization and rising household income thereby simultaneously tackle the rising energy poverty, contribute to climate change mitigation and reduce exposure to climate change vulnerability. The potential to develop various forms of renewable energy is encountering numerous challenges including insufficient data to support decision making, 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. In all fairness, this situation is not 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 dependence on the more sustainable renewables in addition to the insecure hydroelectric which until now has been the most developed followed by geothermal. Moving away from the environmentally harmful fossil fuels also presents the potential for income and employment generation.

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 the feed-in tariff policy to include geothermal, solar, and biogas sources. To identify priority areas of intervention in line with the devolution of energy services to the county levels in the country, the development of a database of renewable energy technologies in the country is underway. The Ministry of Energy in November 2013 sought consultancy services for undertaking a survey on renewable energy technologies in three selected counties of Nakuru, Meru and Kakamega. The overall objective of the study which was not expected to take up no more than six months was to establish the extent to which renewable energy forms are utilized and are accessible to Kenyans. Covering solar PV, solar thermal (concentrated solar), biogas, firewood, charcoal, bioethanol, small hydro power, fireless cookers and their associated technologies, it was envisaged that the survey will be replicated in the remaining fourty four counties in future. Such a database will be GIS-based and updatable for the purpose of monitoring the impact of projects implemented by the Ministry.  

All around the world, national and sub-national governments are putting in place policies and providing financial incentives related to clean energy development and deployment. The Clean Energy Solutions Centre and the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy having 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 grows, supported a study on Developing an Online Database of National and Sub-national Clean Energy Policies. Whereas countries such as India have their Indian Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy Database (IREEED) and the United State’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), developing countries clearly have a soft landing entry point in creating a ‘low carbon friendly’ investment and financing environment to support sustainable energy development.
Political economy 

The International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG) estimates that today, about one in five persons lives in conditions of energy poverty. Whereas the international community is largely driving the pace and direction (priorities) of investments in clean renewable energy especially in developing countries, domestic actors, their interests and institutions in place ultimately determines how the transition (goals) will take place. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network has supported work on the concept of 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 and coupled with the potential to slow down investment in renewable energy in the country, the country’s low carbon competitiveness is undoubtedly going to be affected. China is an example that low-carbon energy development can be done.