Shift to solar should serve as wake-up call

Solar panels. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The growing shift to solar power systems by heavy-consuming industrialists sends a key message: The need for cheaper reliable power.

Kenya suffers from frequent blackouts due to supply shortfalls and an aging grid, triggering the trend where businesses and wealthy people are turning to solar to meet their electricity needs.

Consumers often complain of steep power bills, which are partially due to idle capacity charges that compensate power generators for electricity that is generated but never used.

Under a typical power purchase agreement, a power producer gets paid for any electricity produced, even if it is impossible for Kenya Power to sell it to consumers because of reasons including excess production.

The costly and unreliable power has served to increase the cost of doing business, making Kenya uncompetitive in a global market where nations are competing for foreign investors.

Kenyan industries, for instance, pay multiple times per kWh compared with Egyptian factories.

The country cannot afford to maintain this status quo given it has mostly been generating low-paying and informal jobs that come at a rate economists say is too low to absorb the rapidly growing population.

Therefore, policy makers must find a formula for dealing with the electricity challenge. Kenya must revamp its ageing electricity grid to guarantee steady supply for power.

The nation must also find a way of negotiating power purchase agreements with Kenya Power.

This will offer Kenya Power room to cut retail tariffs that have increased by about 45 percent over the past year.

A previous review team found that there was a huge disparity between the tariffs charged by main power producer Kenya Electricity Generating and independent power producers.

Therefore, Kenya must not give up on its quest for cheaper and reliable electricity.

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