Ideas & Debate

Prepare Kenya for the energy change tsunami


Solar panels. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The recent government attempt to block the rising shift to solar energy by Kenya Power consumers is worrisome and retrogressive. Instead, the government should be formulating policies to encourage people to use more alternative sources of energy. That is the global trend.

Public policymakers know pretty well that reliable power is key to social-economic progress. In fact, it is the main catalyst of economic development and that is why it is a key pillar in the Vision 2030.

To turn around and try to neuter this policy just shows how policy making in Kenya is removed from the implementation of the intention.

Given the frustrations that consumers face under Kenya Power, evidently, the government is not eager to provide cheaper and reliable power to the public.

Is it rocket science why manufacturers are shifting to solar energy? If it is to the government and the Kenya Power, here is why consumers are voting with their feet.

Let's first ignore the small matter that Kenya Power is a cash cow and private interests hold sway there, customer satisfaction be damned.

The mandarins at Kenya Power of course know something. And they are worried about it: The costs of solar panels and accompanying equipment have tumbled by 70 percent in the past 10 years.

For the first time in history of modern power generation, the cost of solar power is cheaper than fossil fuel generated power.

Progressive governments are taking note and coming up with policies to guide the translation from fossil fuel source of energy to more environmentally friendly ones like wind and solar.

This is the reason for the current shift. And it is worldwide: The lithium battery technology has become more efficient. Countries are installing huge battery power stations. China has perfected the art and science of making solar panels en mass, bringing the prices crashing worldwide.

And more is coming: the zinc-bromine battery is coming. It will keep energy for ever. And wait until the graphene battery is economically viable and you will be able to store electricity for household use for three months without charging.

This is a spill over, pundits say, from research and development in the electric vehicle sector and telephone devices with the never-ending quest for longer charge storage.

The last decade has seen huge investment to solve the problem of intermittency. This is the problem of the difference in energy conversion when, for example, the wind blows at certain time producing huge amounts of power when and where it is not needed.

Or, otherwise, the sun shines during the day while demand picks at night. In short, it is the problem of storage.

The Holy Grail of cleaner, cheaper, reliable power is cheaper storage for energy from the sun or wind.

Storage of energy is what the government should be investing in if it was serious in providing efficient and reliable energy.

Kenya Power CEO Bernard Ngúgí has been quoted in the Press as saying the company will help customers to install solar power equipment. This is the way to go.

Yet knowing the ineptitude of this power utility, one cannot be so convinced about this suggestion.

If nowadays customers wait for meters for one year, how will the company supply the more expensive and sophisticated PV panels?

It is history repeating itself. The defunct Kenya Post and Telecommunication Corporation vigorously resisted mobile telephony. We all know what happened.

Kenya Power and by extension the government should know the futility of resisting the tide of technology.

An energy transition tsunami is coming, and the government should be preparing people for the change.