Kenya's Energy and Cutting the Import Bill
Kenya imports energy in the form of oil and oil products. Most
of this oil is used for transport but some is used for industrial
purposes, rural energy for such purposes as water pumping and
electricity generation. There is a thermal power station at the
Coast. The fuel for the thermal stations and some industrial
processes should be replaced by renewable energy sources..
Kenya has four main sources of renewable energy which do not
require fuel to be imported. These are:
Hydroelectric power, mainly on the Tana River;
Biomass in the form of biogas and alcohol from agricultural
Wind Power from the Kano Plains convection system in Nyanza
Solar Energy, especially in the cloud-free arid zone of northern
There may be other sites suitable for collecting wind energy,
for example at the Coast.
In addition there is the geothermal power of the Rift Valley,
the only one not derived from solar energy.
Of these, the Tana River hydroelectricity is approaching full
utilisation. Biomass in the form of alcohol to be added to motor
fuel as gasohol is growing and there is considerable potential
as yet unutilised. Solar power for electricity awaits technological
improvement in the equipment needed to convert sunlight to electricity,
though solar water heating ought to be built into every new building.
However, solar conversion of sunlight might well make Kenya a
major supplier of energy in the future, probably in the form
of hydrogen to replace oil products for transport.
The first three of these energy sources are viable in present
day conditions, as they could all be shown to produce a financial
return which would make them suitable subjects for investment.
Solar power awaits a reduction of the cost of conversion - which
is likely in the near future (2012 - now achieved). Financial conditions may be on
the point of changing because of awareness of the need to reduce
pollution both on a local level and on a world scale.
This paper proposes a wind generating farm on the lines of
the successful and profitable system at Altamont Pass in California.
Carbon dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect
It is now known that carbon dioxide emissions are causing
a change in the world climates, including that of Kenya. It is
desirable to reduce the output of carbon dioxide which comes
from burning the fossil fuels oil and coal. The only way to do
this is to develop the renewable energy sources: wind, sun, tidal
and hydro. Kenya's geothermal energy can be added to this list,
because, although it is not entirely renewable, it does not produce
carbon dioxide. In some areas winds produce waves on the sea
which can be harnessed, and the sun produces a hot layer in the
sea which can produce energy if used in conjunction with the
cold deep waters. (see OTEC).
It seems likely that in the near future there will be a world
program to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. To be effective
this will need to include a tax on carbon fuels, probably at
the production source (oilwell or coal mine), to set up a fund
for researching into and investing in renewable energy sources.
Ideally this tax would be administered by a worldwide body. The
tax would have the effect of raising the cost of oil to consumers,
perhaps by quite a large amount. The intention would be that
they would use less fossil fuel and would turn to alternatives.
Kenya would be in a strong position to ask for help from this
fund to increase the rate of investment in non-carbon energy
supplies. (2012 - we are still waiting.)
In the meantime wind generated electricity ought to be installed
on the grounds that it is already profitable at the present low
energy prices. As energy prices rise the value of the wind energy
can only increase while its cost will not rise so much.
If all these renewable resources are developed, Kenya can
look forward to a time when energy imports will become a small
proportion of present needs, and even to the possibility of energy
exports in the form of hydrogen.
Even without a carbon tax, oil industry analysts predict a rise in
oil prices because at present demand is rapidly increasing, whereas
production and exploration are not. (see also Peak Oil)
Local air pollution
Another aspect of the use of oil products is the various
kinds of pollution found in countries where petrol driven cars
and diesel vehicles are used in large numbers. This pollution
causes health problems to humans and reductions in crop yield.
In Europe there is serious damage to forests. There is now considerable
pressure, especially in West Germany, Switzerland and California,
to reduce the pollution from motor vehicles. In California this
has resulted in a state government declaration to phase out the
use of petroleum products in road vehicles. At present the government
there envisages the replacement of petrol and diesel oil by methanol
derived from natural gas or by electric vehicles. In Europe governments
support increased use of electrified rail services.
Nairobi also suffers from the pollution from vehicle exhausts.
Nairobi could probably reduce local pollution by replacing some
of the Matatus with electric Light Rail (tramways) in the city
which would also reduce some of the traffic congestion. Another
promising alternative, for the long run, is hydrogen powered
vehicles. Hydrogen should be of especial interest to Kenya because
it could be made from local electricity and would help reduce
almost to nothing Kenya's oil import bill. Experimental hydrogen
buses and cars are in operation in Sweden and West Germany. At
present their capital cost is higher than oil driven vehicles
but reductions in costs are probable in the near future. It is
too soon to know yet whether the cost of hydrogen-powered vehicles
can be brought down to compete with the highly priced taxed oil.
If it does, some of the wind energy could be used for producing
hydrogen at the site without feeding power into the grid. In
future it is conceivable that hydrogen might also be produced
in northern Kenya from the abundant solar energy available there.
Long term energy implications
It should be noted that countries like Kenya could be in
a strong economic position in the next (21st) century as renewable
energy sources become more important. The present major industrial
powers have based their strength on burning oil and coal. If
they can no longer allow themselves to do this because of the
environmental effects, the countries which have plenty of solar
and wind power will become relatively richer in energy terms
than northern hemisphere countries with less solar power. Public
opinion will probably not permit more nuclear power stations
to be constructed unless they can be demonstrated to be much
safer than they are at present
In place of oil products hydrogen from countries with strong
sunlight is likely to be the main item of energy trade.