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Economy

Solar firm seeks nod to challenge Kenya Power monopoly

Experts reckon that solar energy offers Kenya the shortest route to lighting off-grid towns. PHOTO | FILE
Experts reckon that solar energy offers Kenya the shortest route to lighting off-grid towns. PHOTO | FILE 

More Kenyan homes will be connected to the electricity grid without having to go through Kenya Power if the energy regulator gives the nod to private companies seeking to challenge the current monopoly in the sector.

Nairobi-based renewable energy firm PowerGen has sought approval from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to generate, supply and sell power to homes using its solar energy micro-grids.

If granted, it would become the second private company to sell electricity outside Kenya Power after US-based Powerhive that has more than 1, 500 households in Kisii as clients.  

Powerhive plans to connect 100, 000 more homes in western Kenya this year at a cost of Sh1.2 billion.

Kenya Power has been the sole supplier and seller of power, denying the sector competitiveness. The Nairobi bourse-listed utility firm buys electricity from producers like KenGen for onward sale to customers.

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“Selling renewable energy to consumers is the direction we are taking,” PowerGen chief executive Sam Slaughter said yesterday on the sidelines of a conference on electricity mini-grids in Nairobi.

The company plans to invest up to Sh1 billion ($10 million) in the construction of micro-grids to light up off-grid homes in areas like Isiolo.

Micro grids work well in areas with a dense concentration of homes since the small grids cover short distances.

Experts reckon that solar energy offers Kenya the shortest route to lighting off-grid towns since the option of stretching the national grid to connect the areas takes longer and gulps enormous resources.

The country has set a target of connecting all homes to power by 2020- about half are currently lit.

But the Energy Bill, which is awaiting Parliament’s approval, takes away Kenya Power’s role of buying power and awards it to an independent player for the utility firm to concentrate on fixing its ageing infrastructure for efficient distribution and supply.

Powerhive president and CEO Christopher Hornor said Kenya presents a huge lucrative market.

Kenya has recently attracted multiple multinationals, eyeing a piece of the solar energy market with some supplying equipment while others construct solar farms.

They include UK firm Solarcentury, the developer of a solar carport at Garden City Mall on Nairobi’s Thika Road and India-based Astonfield Solar- developer of a 2-megawatt solar plant at Two Rivers Mall in Kiambu County.

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