Kenya needs to align power supply with global energy transition trends

The global shift from fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) to renewable energy is indeed a work in progress, with the scope of transition varying from country to country.

Kenya needs a smartly planned transition pathway that avoids surprise energy disruptions in the future — a scene we are witnessing in South Africa.

Key transition drivers are the rapidly evolving renewables technologies, investor preference for renewable energy and facilitative government policies.

Globally, green energy projects are already receiving more capital than new oil and gas production investments as demand for oil starts to level.

Kenya’s energy authorities should undertake a fresh forecast for electricity demands to accommodate the impacts of energy conversion from fossil fuels to renewable electricity — both grid and off-grid.

The biggest electricity demand increase will be in the electrification of road transportation, which has already begun, and in the standard gauge railway (SGR) when the government decides to electrify it.

A new power demand study over 10 to 15 years is necessary to inform investments in added power generation.

This demand should be split between grid and off-grid, acknowledging the ongoing uptake of off-grid solar generation and applications.

To accommodate stepped-up industrialisation, energy authorities will need a new strategy for industrial heating to replace imported fuel oil and coal with renewable energy.

Direct electric heating is not effective for high-temperature industrial heating. This is why the global focus is turning to green hydrogen (sourced from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity) for industrial heating.

In the meantime, locating new industries in geothermal zones (Naivasha and Menengai) will make available ready geothermal heat, which is renewable energy.

Over the next 10 years, Kenya will experience decreasing petroleum demand which will prompt scaling down of petroleum supply chain (ports, pipelines, depots, service stations) investments as capital moves to renewable energy generation and applications infrastructure.

Tax revenue authorities will also need to reconfigure how to replace reduced tax revenues from petroleum consumption as the economy migrates to indigenous renewable energy.

With diminishing global and Kenya oil demand, commercialisation of Turkana oil will remain a real headache. The life of a new oil production project is usually 20-25 years, a critical fact that must be considered as oil demand will have contracted.

If at all it will happen, the commercialisation of Turkana oil must be early and quick for assured returns.

In conclusion, as Kenya continues to address pressing electricity cost and efficiency issues, we need to rethink and re-engineer the entire energy supply systems to align with emerging global energy trends.

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