Kenya on Wednesday unveiled plans to construct East Africa’s largest solar power plant in the North Eastern town of Garissa.
The Rural Electrification Authority (REA), the agency that will build the solar farm, said the Sh12.8 billion plant will produce enough power to light up 625,000 homes.
The construction of the 55-megawatt (MW) facility is expected to start July and will take 12 months to complete.
Power from the plant will be injected into the national grid as part of the plan to wean the northern town off its reliance on expensive thermal electricity and boost economic activity.
Electricity from the plant will retail at Sh12 ($0.12) per unit or about Sh6 lower than diesel-generated power.
“We are going heavy on renewable energy for faster electrification of off-grid areas and households,” REA chairman Simon Gicharu said at a press briefing in Nairobi.
Solar experts reckon that Kenya, like most African nations, has a high potential to generate solar energy given high radiation levels from the sun throughout the year.
The intensity of sunlight, not heat levels, determines solar electricity production.
Kenya has more than 300 days of sunshine per year, double Germany’s — which is the global leader in solar energy production with an installed capacity of more than 40,000 megawatts.
Kenya’s total power capacity stands at 2,294MW, with solar power accounting for less than one per cent.
The solar farm, with 210,210 solar panels, is expected to be the largest in East and Central Africa and will be constructed by China Jiangxi using a Sh12.8 billion loan from China’s Exim Bank.
It will be located 20km from Garissa town and is expected to create 1,000 jobs during the construction period.
Mr Gicharu said that apart from generating cheap electricity, the solar farm is expected to cut Kenya’s carbon emissions by an estimated 43,000 tonnes per year for trading in the global carbon market.
REA said solar energy offers Kenya the shortest route to lighting off-grid towns that have for long relied on expensive diesel generators to produce electricity.
The agency plans to set up 100 small solar plants in off-grid towns, with the aim of lighting up the majority of homes in the next financial year starting June.
The target towns include Mandera, Garissa, Turkana, Wajir, Lamu and Tana River. Mr Gicharu said connecting off-grid towns by stretching the national grid would take longer and gulp enormous resources, making solar the most viable alternative.
The Jubilee government in 2013 set an ambitious plan to install additional 5,000MW to the grid by end of next year from renewable sources like geothermal wells, solar and wind farms.
Kenya targets to connect all homes to power by 2020.