Reports on the success of Kenya’s electrification program seem too good to be true. Official figures suggest that the proportion of the population with access to electricity at home has increased from 27% in 2013 to 55% this year, putting the country on course to achieve its goal of 95% electrification by 2021.
While the actual figures may be disputed, there is little doubt that electrification is proceeding at an incredible rate. The local press is full of stories of people accessing electricity for the first time. According to Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission, 1.3 million customers were added to the grid last year, taking its customer base to 5.4 million, while another 1.5 million are to be added this year.
For those who take power for granted, it is easy to overlook the transformative nature of electricity. Hundreds of thousands more Kenyan children are able to do their homework with electric lights; medicine and food can be stored at home; water pumps can supply safe drinking water. Perhaps most importantly, reducing the use of paraffin lamps improves indoor air quality and prevents many of the deadly fires that occur on a daily basis.
There are also potentially wider economic benefits as Kenya steps up its generating capacity to meet demand. A lack of power supply has held back the manufacturing sector in the past. Rising manufacturing wages in China are pushing jobs into other countries, mainly in Southeast Asia, but Sub-Saharan Africa could be well placed to attract some of the displaced investment — if it can provide reliable electricity supply to complement its improving port infrastructure.
Kenya’s national generating capacity has risen from about 800 MW in 2000 to 2.333 GW at end-2016. The government will miss its target of ensuring 5 GW generating capacity by end-2017, but progress is being made on a string of projects and Nairobi has just set a new target of 6.766 GW by 2020.
Planned new geothermal plants are to provide 2.2 GW, wind 650 MW and hydro a further 550 MW, but Kenya is also pursuing a more environmentally contentious project — a 985 MW coal-fired plant that Amu Power Company, a Sino-Kenyan joint venture, hopes to build at the new port of Lamu.
The discovery of onshore natural gas reserves over the past four years has also raised the prospect of developing gas-fired power plant, but more work needs to be done to assess the size of the reserves. Finally, looking further into the future, Kenya should eventually be able to access electricity, post-2020, via planned cross-border interconnectors, from the massive, under-construction Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.