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Sep 19, 2018

Combining wind with solar energy to expand access to electricity in Kenya

Kenya leads the East Africa region regarding access to electricity. Still, at a rate of just 56% electrification, the country still has a way to go in ensuring that everyone is able to get access. Luckily, Kenya is a perfect candidate for renewable energy, which provides an exciting opportunity to expand access to electricity whilst mitigating climate change.

While efforts have already begun to harness solar energy- including in off-grid areas- the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP) asserts that Kenya is also well-suited for wind power. While installing solar panels makes sense in a naturally sunny country, some downsides include high end-user tariffs and storage costs.

To potentially reduce the cost of electricity in Kenya and East Africa, a group of stakeholders including Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) have been studying a mini wind turbine that can be added onto already existing off-grid solar panels, essentially creating a hybrid form of renewable energy.

This group of stakeholders, united under the Kenya Mini-Wind Project, will be holding a meeting this Thursday, 20 September at Strathmore Business School. By involving a government agency (Rural Electrification Authority- REA), a Danish wind turbine company (Vestas), an NGO (SustainableEnergy), a university (Technical University of Denmark- DTU), and KCIC, the partners represent the technical expertise, contextual understanding, and commercial insight necessary to bring together communities, public institutions, and commercial companies to realize the project.

The meeting will discuss progress on the project’s main goals, which are getting a better understanding of a) the market for small scale wind turbines and b) how to integrate these into mini-grid systems with solar and storage to reduce the cost of electricity. As such, a consultant for KCIC, Henry Gichungi, will be presenting at the results of a market study he undertook.

Other KCIC speakers will consist of CEO Edward Mungai, Manager of Corporate Services Ernest Chitechi, and Director of Corporate Services Ruth Ndegwa.

This project explores the market and pilot hybridization of existing solar grids with wind energy for a period of four years, which began in September 2017 and will end in June 2021.

One issue the project addresses is the need to incentivize private sector and not just public providers of renewable energy. Private rural electrification companies in Kenya do not have access to the same subsidies as public actors within the sector have. Establishing a level playing field with equal access to support would enable the development of the market and allow for the Kenyan regulatory set-up to be a showcase for the rest of the region.

On that note, the project aims to generate learnings and insights that are relevant for neighboring countries. Lack of access to electricity is a challenge across the region and a regional scope is necessary to establish an attractive business case. Through exploring hybrid mini-wind turbines with off-grid solar panels, Kenya can further prove itself as a leader in renewable energy and in providing electrification to vulnerable populations.

By: Alise Brillault

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