Paving the Way for Clean Energy in Kenya or Moving Backwards?

This article was originally posted on the wPOWER Hub website and was co-authored with Ruchi Soni.

The growth of a country is closely tied to the pace of development of its energy resources. While Kenya is boosting its installed capacity, it needs to prioritise this growth through clean energy sources. Any energy solution in Kenya must be evaluated for its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental-friendliness, based on the potential in that area. Kenya should tap its potential for renewable energy sources before moving to conventional energy options such as coal.

Kenya’s current installed capacity (as of May 2017) stands at 2,333 MW, with a projected energy demand of 15,000 MW by 2030. In an effort to diversify Kenya’s energy mix, several energy options are being considered, including coal, nuclear and renewable energy. However, what is perplexing is the consideration of sources like coal and nuclear energy when the potential to develop cleaner sources is abundant in the country.

Several new Independent Power Projects projects are underway. We will zoom into two cases in Kenya – one of the ongoing construction of a USD$2 billion coal power plant nearly 21km away from Lamu town (a UNESCO world heritage site and part of the Lamu Archipelago), and another on the construction of a 1,000 MW nuclear facility. Why these two energy sources have been chosen for constructing new electricity generation, given that Kenya is brimming with cleaner alternatives like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy is unclear and baffling.

Kenya’s Energy Mix

Kenya’s Vision 2030 recognises energy as one of the key enablers to the economic, social and political development of the country. The Ministry of Energy and Petroleum has therefore committed to increasing the generation and distribution of energy throughout the country. The current generation mix comprises of 823 MW hydropower, 652 MW geothermal, 716 MW thermal (Medium Speed Diesel), 60 MW thermal (Gas Turbine), 25.5 MW wind and 28 MW co-generation.The installed capacity for off-grid systems stands at 27.52 MW, consisting of thermal (26.33 MW), wind (0.55 MW) and solar (0.64 MW). In addition, Kenya imports electricity from Uganda and Ethiopia. [1][2][3]

The Ministry of Energy and Petroleum launched the Roadmap for Fast Tracking Power Generation for the period between 2013 and 2017, to install various energy projects. This includes an additional capacity of 5,000 MW through several projects in geothermal (624 MW), wind (25.67 MW), hydropower (799.52 MW), thermal (760.84 MW), biomass (23.50 MW) and solar (0.20 MW).According to the roadmap, “the additional capacity was deemed necessary to avail adequate capacity to match the projected demand growth, to achieve competitive electricity tariffs through integration of least cost generation projects, diversification of the generation mix reducing the contribution of hydropower and avoidance of over-reliance on hydropower.” Through this roadmap, the generation cost is projected to substantially reduce domestic and commercial/industrial tariffs, as seen in graph below. [4]

Expected Generation from Coal and Nuclear Energy

The 1,050 MW Lamu coal power plant is expected to be built in the next few years by Amu Power with financing from Kenya, China, and South Africa. Coal is expected to be imported from Zimbabwe and South Africa, until Kenya initiates the mining of its own coal in Kitui County’s Mui Basin. [5As of now, Lamu Power has signed a power purchase agreement with Kenya Power to sell electricity generated at the plant at a low cost of USD $0.0752/kWh. This low cost of coal however, discounts both global and local externalities such as the social cost of carbon, that is, associated environmental problems, air pollution and the health impact to coal workers and area residents. These externalities, which often remain uncaptured could present a huge economic cost to the country. In addition, Lamu is renowned for its fishing and tourism, both of which will be severely impacted, leading to loss in livelihoods. [6]

In contrast, China, one of the largest coal producing countries in the world has canceled 103 coal plant projects and committed to focusing on cleaner sources of energy, with Germany, Finland, Canada, Holland, France, and Austria pledging to phase out the same. The question arises on why Kenya is embracing a source of energy that is quickly being phased out by developed economies. [7][8][9]

“The Ministry of Environment is quite clear that there is no clean coal; coal is dirty, there is nothing like clean coal.” Judy Wakhungu, Kenyan Environment Cabinet Secretary. [10]

On nuclear power, the Kenyan government is aiming for 4,000 MW of power from nuclear by 2030. While the capital cost of nuclear energy is high (due to building safety, containment and waste systems), fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions are minimal. Collins Gordon Juma, Acting CEO of the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board, estimates that nuclear power could lower the generation cost of electricity to USD$0.04-0.06/kWh. [11][12]

However, the argument against nuclear is one that is straightforward: nuclear waste is radioactive and if not contained with safe disposal methods, is hazardous to the environment and the population. In contrast, Germany is actively working to close down all of its existing nuclear power by 2022 and fill the gap with renewables. [13]

Renewable Energy

This discussion then leads us to ask if there are any clean sources of energy that Kenya can tap for generating electricity? This is particularly important as wind power, hydropower, geothermal, and solar are available and affordable, and pose zero environmental pollution risk. Additionally, solar, hydro and wind have no associated fuel costs, unlike coal and nuclear power. Optimizing the energy output of these options should therefore be a priority.

The Lake Turkana wind power project in Marsabit county is composed of 365 turbines, and has a capacity of 310 MW. Once operational, the USD $670 million (KES 70 billion) wind farm is expected to provide electricity to the national grid at a cost of USD$0.08/kWh (KES 8.6 cents per kWh), which is comparable to the cost of coal. [14]  Additionally, the planned USD$153 million solar power plant in Garissa will have a 55 MW generating capacity at a cost of USD$0.12/kWh.

If India’s record low solar tariff of 2.44 Rupees/kWh (USD$0.038/kWh) reported in May 2017 is anything to go by, we should expect to witness a continued decline in the price of solar PV globally. [15] [16] [17]  Kenya also has several operational hydropower stations. The estimated potential of geothermal is between 7,000 MW and 10,000 MW, and small hydro potential is 3,000 MW. [20][21There are also geothermal generation plants at Menengai (137 MW) and Olkaria (412 MW) with drilling planned at Baringo-Silali (estimated potential 3000 MW) and Suswa (estimated potential 750 MW). [18][19]

Way Forward

The decisions on Kenya’s energy future are being made now and our collective voices need to be heard. Kenya has abundant renewable energy potential and is capable of leading the charge in clean and renewable energy in the continent. While the government has taken substantive action so far, there is still work needed to be done to prioritize attention, policies, and resources towards renewable energy sources. Any energy solution must be evaluated for its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental-friendliness, based on the potential in that area before a decision is made.


Government of Kenya. (2015). Draft National Energy Policy. GoK

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