Editorials

Probe thermal electricity surge in the energy mix

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Geothermal well at Olkaria. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The energy regulator explained that the surge was due to poor hydrology, low wind output from Lake Turkana, unavailability of several geothermal plants in Olkaria.
  • 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).

A revelation that thermal energy fed to the national grid hit a 30-month high in November at the time the government was pushing Kenya Power to cut electricity prices is the latest pointer of what is wrong with the energy sector.

Official data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that thermal power supplied to the national grid shot up to 134.91 Gigawatt hours (Gwh) as of November 2021, the highest since June 2019 when Kenya Power received 146.23 Gwh.

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

As a consequence, 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.

The energy regulator explained that the surge was due 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.

Though the explanation makes sense, players in the sector insist that Kenya is not exhausting available cheaper energy sources before switching on diesel generators.

This now calls for a proper audit to protect consumers from expensive power. Drought can be predicted well in advance and it cannot be used as an excuse every year, in a country that has tools to plan ahead.

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 is 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.

It is also critical to only go for cheaper alternatives to allow the government the headroom to honour its pledge of cutting power tariffs by another 15 percent in the first quarter.