Kenya is well on its way to achieving its ambitious target of universal energy accessibility by 2030, the technology group Wärtsilä assessed.

Kenya has made remarkable investment in the energy sector and especially in the renewable energy mix, says George Oywer, Business Development Manager, Wärtsilä, who spoke in Nairobi at a media roundtable. Mika Lintilä, Minister of Economic Affairs in Finland, also attended the event.  “In the past 8 years, foreign direct investment in geothermal and clean energy projects has been close to USD 3 billion in total. This indicates that Kenya is well on its way to achieving its ambitious target of universal energy accessibility by 2030,” Mr. Oywer said.

It is estimated that by 2030, annual demand for electricity in Kenya will grow to 15 GW and its installed capacity will rise to 19.2 GW. Currently, hydropower covers the largest share of power generation in Kenya, accounting for 36%, followed by thermal power (31%), geothermal power (28%) and other renewables (5%). However, there are also some challenges related to a large share of hydropower. For instance, in 2016, Zambia, which is dependent on hydropower for over 90% of its electricity supply, witnessed a power-deficit rise to 1 GW due to drought-like conditions driven by climate change. The same happened with Malawi, which is dependent on hydropower for 98% of its power supply. Since then many countries have been working more seriously on diversifying their power mix.

Flexibility is key in introducing renewables

The main issue for the introduction of renewables is the inflexibility of current production sources. Renewable power often creates enormous power fluctuation, but technologies like turbines and coal are not intended for ramping up and down the power generation capacity and they need more time to ramp up. Therefore, they do not support the intermittent nature of renewables.

The existing inflexible baseload capacity needs to be supported by modern flexible generation assets like engines and energy storage. Without fast-starting flexible capacity, renewables will cause instability to the grid and huge difficulties for grid operators. Wärtsilä engines and energy storage provide the needed flexibility to integrate renewables and secure reliability of the power system. They also provide capacity for grid stability, peaking and load-following generation.

“To meet the rising energy demand, Kenya, like many other African nations is now working on changing its power mix to include more renewable energy, namely solar PV and wind, and reducing its dependence on hydropower. Wärtsilä is keen on partnering with Kenyan government in the energy sector in realizing its 2030 vision towards progressive and self-sustainable society as well as empowerment of its people,” said Mr. Oywer.

Huge investment

Following the Team Finland visit in Namibia and Kenya Minister Lintilä noted that Africa also has the potential to reach universal energy access by 2030 but will need to grow its electricity market by 8.4% annually. Universal access to electricity in Africa requires huge investments in new power infrastructure that will have to be built in a relatively short period of time.

“Africa is amongst the world’s most underserviced energy markets, accounting for 13% of the world’s population but just 4% of its energy demand. Renewables, apart from hydropower, account for a very small portion of the power mix, but it’s a market that is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years,” Mr. Oywer said.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that electricity demand in Africa will triple by 2040 and close to half of the new capacity will come from renewables, mostly solar PV and wind.

Wärtsilä has a long tradition of working with African countries and is now leading the transition towards a 100% renewable energy future in Africa. During the past 50 years, Wärtsilä has equipped and/or constructed over 600 plants with 1,300 engines producing some 7.2 GW of power in 60 countries in Africa only. Wärtsilä supports Kenya in the energy transition and is currently working on a number of solar projects in the country.

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