A debate on the future of national electricity grid verses off-grid solar energy has heated up in Kenya after electricity distributor, Kenya Power, reported a decline in revenue due to growing shift to solar power systems by heavy-consuming industrialists.
The simmering debate has attracted the general public and energy experts across the country on online platforms with solar champions arguing that time is nigh for a solar revolution in the country.
In its latest annual report, Kenya Power reveals that some of its industrial customers are progressively shifting to own-generated solar power, eating further into its already troubled sales revenues.
Kenyans on social media platforms have accused the electricity utility of high electricity rates and taxes despite excess production of electricity by the East African country.
Kenya’s electricity generation crossed a record 1 billion kilowatt-hours in October — adding financial burden on the distributor, which is already paying for huge volumes of idle electricity, a cost that is passed on to consumers.
With Several firms, universities and industrial factories turning to solar photovoltaic (PV) grid-tied systems, some excited consumers have vowed to give the utility a wide berth and automatically switch to solar energy for internal use to ensure reliable supply and reduced costs.
But Mr. Frank Ochieng’, the chief communications officer, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) says that the dream of many Kenyans owning a mini solar power plant is farfetched as the installation, maintenance and associated costs are beyond the reach of many.
“The first thing a potential customer is met with is a high installation bill, followed by an even higher maintenance and associated costs,” he notes.
According to Kenya’s Energy Regulator, the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), less than 1% of the country’s energy mix is tapped from solar yet the country, located in the equatorial zones, has tremendous potential in solar energy.
Mr. Ochieng’ argues that cost factor and lack of technology might explain the slow growth in the solar energy sector. “Kenya imports all the technology, including equipment and expertise, hence driving the cost further up above the global average”
He further states that while the sun may be free in Kenya, the cost of solar energy storage is beyond average Kenyans. The solar energy system requires batteries to store the energy for use in the nights and the rainy or less sunny days. He says the storage aspect is the most expensive component of the system.
As the debate rages on, Mr. Ochieng’ pours cold water on the excitement stating that more and more Kenyans will continue to rely on the grid as their sole supplier of electricity since the Solar is an evolving technology that attracts new modifications every year.
He advices that before giving into the ‘solar switch’ mob psychology, which could be driven by influencers and solar supply companies, it is important for policy makers, potential investors and the general public to take a step back and objectively review the risks associated with solar technology.