Renewable energy can alleviate shortage in East Africa

February 10, 2014

The development of clean and environment-friendly renewable energy is easily becoming one of the main thrusts of the East African governments as they aim to make their countries self reliant on energy and alleviate the chronic power blackouts. Renewable energy remains as East African countries main thrust with East African region being the laggard with highest number of blackouts in Africa. It also has the lowest grid connections per population. The region’s government commitment should be to make sure that there’s sustainable and environment friendly energy as well as make it affordable and rightly priced. Power shortages are constraining growth in the East African countries with Tanzania being the worst affected followed by Rwanda according to industry statistics. The conventional method of producing electric power in the region has had plenty of drawbacks with environmental pollution and drainage of foreign exchange resources. A 2013 study conducted by a European renewable energy firm found out that East African region has about 340 sunny days amounting to about 3,400 hours of sunshine equivalent to 5,100 trillion Kwh.

Airflows above are used to run wind turbines that generates electricity like this one in California U.S.A.
Airflows above are used to run wind turbines that generates electricity like this one in California U.S.A.

Solar energy is generated during daylight hours that are the periods of normal peak demand. Research shows that it’s pollution free and inexhaustible in tropical regions like East Africa.  In rural East Africa where grid power is not available, cheap solar technology is a viable alternative and the electricity infrastructure could consist of a network of local grid clusters with distributed solar electric generation bringing cheap power to the masses. In Kenya, the country energy sector has mega plans to use gas powered power plants to generate at least 5,000 megawatts in the next three years and plans are afoot to have the plant fully operational in 2018 or before. According to the international tender the government of Kenya placed on international media, the power plant to constructed in the coastal region of the country is expected to produce energy that is safe, simple, clean, reliable and environment-friendly just like Africa’s biggest geothermal power plant being built in Olkaria located in the Lake town of Naivasha in Kenya’s rift valley region where power it is extracted from deep within the earth’s surface.

Initially, Kenyans were said to have mistook the night time emission of the geothermal plant in Olkaria power plant, as smoke although it is actually steam and it does not cause pollution. In Uganda another East African country with chronic power shortage has stepped the efforts to rid the country of relying on energy from diesel and small hydrothermal power plants that have insufficient capacity provide for the needs of the entire country. According to Electricity Regulatory Authority, the regulator of energy industry in Uganda, unlike geothermal plants, the diesel plants provided energy that is more expensive by all standards and pollutive as well a problem that has seen Uganda’s National Environment Authority taking stern action against companies generating electricity using diesel. There are so many problems in the East African countries regarding electricity and in comparison with developed countries where such sectors are well managed, with solid financials and no problems, the East African electricity transmission and generating companies are the opposite with almost all of them are riddled with huge debts, incompetence and graft. If the region were to embrace solar energy, the equipment used in building such systems have a longer life, less maintenance costs and lower running costs compared to equipment producing power through conventional sources and the same applies to all clean and renewable energies.

Contador Harrison