Thermal electricity supply touches 30-month high amid bills cut push


Geothermal well at Olkaria. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Thermal energy fed to the national grid hit a 30-month high in November, at the height of a government push to cut electricity prices and turn away from expensive power.

The latest government data shows that thermal power supplied to Kenya Power #ticker:KPLC increased to 134.91-gigawatt hours (Gwh) in November 2021, the highest since June 2019 when the grid received 146.23 Gwh.

This saw the proportion of thermal power increase to 13.2 percent of the country’s energy mix squeezing out other renewable sources such as geothermal, solar, wind power and imports from Uganda and Tanzania.

The contribution of hydro to the power mix dropped to 28.6 percent from 29.8 percent in October while geothermal power which accounts for the largest share dropped marginally to 36.9 percent from 37.3 percent.

“(This was attributed to) poor hydrology, low wind output from Lake Turkana, unavailability of several geothermal plants in Olkaria and the outages occasioned by the collapse of the transmission network,” Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority director-general Daniel Kiptoo told the Business Daily.

The thermal power hit a low of 35.7 Gwh in April 2020 amid lower consumption of power due to reduced business and industrial activities following the pandemic.

The power has been constantly rising since April last year from 59.6 Gwh.

The uptake has been attributed to lost supply from Lake Turkana Wind Power and several geothermal plants due to the collapse of the transmission lines that also led to blackouts. Drought has also been blamed for the low water levels in hydropower plants.

The increase in the use of thermal power could derail the move to cheaper and renewable power. Thermal power plants use diesel generators, making them more expensive than other power sources, charging up to Sh22.7 ($0.20) per unit compared to hydropower (Sh5.7), while geothermal and wind are supplied at an average of Sh9.08 ($0.08) per unit.

Electricity is sold in US dollars, meaning Kenyans spend more whenever the shilling depreciates.

Kenya Power has been purchasing thermal power from firms — Kipevu Diesel I, Kipevu Diesel III and Muhoroni GT and independent power producers, including Tsavo, Rabai Power, Thika Power and Iberafrica Diesel in the last financial years to June 2021.

In the financial year, thermal power connected increased to 940 Gwh compared to 882 Gwh in the previous year as geothermal declined to 5,034Gwh from 5,352 Gwh over the period. Kenya Power spent Sh89.14 billion in 2020/21 on the purchase of power from KenGen, independent power producers and imports up from Sh82.01 billion the previous year.

Consumers Federation of Kenya blamed the increased uptake on the take-or-pay policy with excessive graft in the energy sector that has continued to see a reduction in the deployment of geothermal and hydro energy “even whenever there is the capacity for both”.

“There is no justification for continued deployment of thermal energy other than for technical stabilisation of the current. The real motive is linked to greed and waning persuasion on public interest and consumer protection,’’ said Cofek secretary-general Stephen Mutoro

“Again, the fact that there is minimal or no disclosures on the subject matter has heightened the secrecy that is an enabler of such deceit.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta in November 2021 had also told the international community at UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, that the country was on course to achieving a full transition to clean energy by the year 2030.

Over the five years, Kenya Power had moved to increase solar power to reduce consumption of thermal power, with 21 solar mini-grids constructed and commissioned in the year ending June 2021.

The public company announced it had also secured funding for the construction of a further 100 solar mini-grids.

About Sh13.3 billion funding had been received in the last financial year for expansion for these sources with Sh12.9 billion having been spent on projects.

The uptake of the generated thermal electricity by the country’s distributor and monopoly coincided formation of the task force in March 2021 as ordered by the President.

The task force aimed to find ways of cutting power tariffs to relieve individuals, businesses and industrial consumers of costly electricity bills.

The move has led to a 15 percent cut in electricity tariffs early this year.

Low-income households that use less than 100 units were saved Sh3.3 per unit while ordinary consumers were saved Sh3.2 per unit.

Small industrial users of less than 100 units got a Sh7.9 per unit cut while small industrial consumers of less than 15,000 units would save Sh3.2 on their monthly bills.

Large commercial users were handed a Sh2.5 cut per unit during peak hours and Sh1.25 during off-peak.

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