Kenya Power blackouts hit ten hours on ageing lines


Kenya Power workers carry out repair works along Haile Selassie Road, Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG

Kenya Power is taking more than eight hours on average to connect its more than nine million customers back to the grid after a blackout, exposing itself to the risk of renewed compensation claims by businesses for financial losses, a new report by the sector regulator has shown.

Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) data shows that November 2022 was the worst in nearly two years after outages lasted 10.63 hours on average, prompting households and factories to seek costlier alternatives.

The unreliability, which explains the growing shift by large power consumers to own generation and solar, shot up from an average of six hours in July to peak at 10.63 hours in November last year, exposing the risk of its ageing infrastructure on the economy.

“Electricity supply reliability was low in November with a system average interruption duration of 10.63 hours. This is attributed to partial and national blackouts experienced during the month,” Epra says in the report.

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The utility early this month plunged the country into its fifth nationwide blackout in the past four years, which it blamed on transmission lines manned by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company.

The prolonged blackouts at a time when Kenya is dealing with its worst drought in four decades have turned the focus on Kenya Power’s deteriorating supply lines.

It also coincides with more frequent nationwide blackouts as the sector regulator calls for an urgent revamp of transmission lines to protect consumers from long hours of darkness.

There has been a growing push from the businesses that incur financial losses due to power outages to be compensated by Kenya Power.

But the regulations to compel the power utility to compensate consumers for financial losses, equipment damage, physical injuries and death due to power outages are yet to be operationalised.

Kenya Power offers compensation for injuries and damaged kits but does not compensate domestic and business customers for financial loss resulting from being left without electricity.

The last time blackouts lasted close to the 10.63-hour peak in November 2022 was in January last year and July 2021 when outages averaged 10.5 hours per month.

The unreliability of the national grid has in recent years prompted a shift to solar and biomass internal electricity generation, especially by big consumers and wealthy families.

The energy regulator measures the outages on the national grid using the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) per month.

SAIDI refers to the average outage duration for each customer on the grid and is calculated by summing up all customer interruptions and then dividing by the total number of customers.

Kenya was on March 4, 2023, plunged into a national blackout, just six months after a similar outage on November 24 last year that hit hard Nairobi, Coast and Mount Kenya regions.

The nationwide outage was attributed to a failure of 200 MVA and 200 MVA transformers at the Isinya substation while the blackout that hit Nairobi, Coast and Mount Kenya was blamed on a similar problem on a 105 MVA transformer at Olkaria 1.

Transformer failures are attributed to wear and tear, old age, power overloads and natural forces such as lightning strikes.

In January last year, three major transmission failures that occurred within hours of each other plunged Kenya into its worst nationwide power blackout amid rising sabotage fears.

Blackout durations then eased to an average of 8.5 hours in December last year even as concerns mount on the reliability of the Kenya Power supply due to increasing customers on the network.

Kenya Power first raised the alarm on the shift to solar by big consumers who account for slightly more than half of its sales revenues in 2020.

Big firms such as East Africa Breweries Limited, Africa Logistics Properties (ALP), Mombasa International Airport, and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) have all set up internal power generation plants.

Wealthy families are also increasingly installing solar panels to power their homes, further eating into Kenya Power’s sales. Peak demand for electricity also hit a fresh high in what will compound Kenya Power’s woes.

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Electricity demand peaked at a new high of 2,149 megawatts (MW) on December 14 last year, highlighting the need to boost generation and reliability.

Kenya Power, which has been struggling with thinning cash flows, is now counting on higher electricity tariffs from next month to provide money for upgrading the transmission lines and boosting the quality of power.

The utility submitted proposed higher tariffs that if adopted will take effect from April 1.

It said the new tariffs are key to providing billions of shillings needed to expand the grid and enhance the reliability of the power supply.

Kenya Power disclosed that the new tariffs if approved, will raise at least Sh31.4 billion that will be shared between the utility and other State agencies in the energy sector.

But the higher tariffs, coupled with high unreliability levels, are likely to fuel the shift by consumers to own-power generation besides making Kenya’s energy costs less competitive compared to Ethiopia, South Africa and Egypt.

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