By Sharon Atieno

Despite tremendous efforts put in scaling up connectivity to the extent of more than doubling the access rate in the last four years, a quarter of Kenyans (around 12 million) still lack access to a modern source of energy.

By January 2017, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) served 5.1 million customers and was adding a 100,000 new connections a month. In addition, 700,000 households were equipped with quality-certified solar home systems. However, based on projections from 2009 census, there were 10.8 million total households in January 2017, leaving 5 million households unelectrified.

Since February 2018, access is estimated at 75 percent from both grid and off-grid options, states a 2018 World Bank Multi-Tier Framework Survey Report.

In a two-day conference held in Nairobi recently, the government launched the new National Electrification strategy to deal with existing challenges and emerging issues. Some of these challenges include: high connection charges, high costs of supplying electricity to rural and peri-urban households, lack of appropriate incentives to attract private investors, inappropriate technical standards given the nature of settlements, weak implementation capacity and difficulties and delays in obtaining way leaves consents and rights of way and demands for high compensation.

With energy being crucial to Kenya’s quest of becoming an industrialized middle-income country, the need for universal access to electricity cannot be neglected. “This strategy addresses the broad spectrum of the necessary policy direction, investment and collaborative environment required to achieve universal access to electricity in Kenya by 2022,” said Charles Keter, Cabinet Secretary for Energy.

“The flagship policies and other projects outlined by the strategy if implemented are expected to accelerate economic growth to an average of 10 percent per year from the current 5 percent as well as bring modern and clean energy sources to Kenyans’ households,” concluded Keter.

Several approaches have been considered to achieve access to electricity by all, among them being balancing consumer intensification with service beyond the grid. This will include expanding grid electric power to areas where expansion costs are below grid compatibility at an accelerated pace. It will also incorporate identifying off-grid solutions that can meet the energy needs of lower income remote population centers and housing clusters at reasonable costs and within the government’s time frame.

Both KPLC and the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) have planning processes, with neither one focusing on systematically expanding grid and off-grid coverage. While KPLC focuses on meeting load growth within its footprint, REA concentrates on extending electricity service to public facilities.  Thus, integrating planning processes of KPLC and REA is crucial as the Kenya National Electrification Strategy (KNES) is based on an integrated planning for both grid and off-grid areas.

Through developing a geospatial platform, KPLC and REA would be able to identify opportunities for grid intensification and expansion and to coordinate deployment of mini-grids and solar photovoltaic systems. It would also enable them to systematically evaluate the costs and benefits of grid expansion versus off-grid services to rural and remote communities as well as how to expand coverage beyond the grid through mini- and micro-grids and standalone systems. Moreover, effective geospatial planning for electrification enables countries to achieve economic efficiency and to systematically and equitably expand service across the country.

Scaling up off-grid service is a key approach especially in rural and remote areas. Pay-as-you-go photovoltaic systems that provide basic lighting and cell-phone charging have achieved high market penetration in Kenya, thus proving its essence in helping Kenya achieve universal access to electricity by 2022. The main challenge is to devise a strategy for systematic service delivery to off-grid areas that reach as many consumers efficiently and at the approved level of energy delivery.

To reach universal coverage by 2022 is an ambitious goal that will require more funding than has been currently pledged. To reach universal rural electrification by 2022, public investment of USD 2.3 billion is required. This assumes a cost per grid connection of USD 1,000 at a cost per connection of up to USD 1,500 thus, increasing the investment requirement to USD 3.5 billion, states the 2018 Final report KNES Investment Plan.

The progress that has been made so far, has been through collaborations between the government, development partners and the private sector through interventions such as the Last Mile Connectivity, electrification of all public schools, result-based financing through the Global Partnership for Output-Based Aid, the Rural Electrification Programme and the private sector-led market based approaches in the off-grid space.

By achieving access to electricity by 2022, Kenya is not only going to set a milestone in Sub-Saharan Africa but also make remarkable  progress towards achieving sustainable development goal seven on reliable, affordable and sustainable energy for all.