Low cost technology fueling expansion of wind energy and solar power

Kenya is an energy deficient country as its installed capacity for electricity currently stands at about 1500 MW for the population close to 40 million.

As a result roughly only 20 percent of the population has access to the national grid. The vast majority use wood and other forms of biomass for their energy needs.

However this under supply of electricity coupled with low cost of technology needed to harness renewable energy has lead to an increasing uptake of solar energy.

The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) Regional Office for Africa Desta Mebratu told Xinhua on Wednesday that Kenya is one of the countries in Africa that have scaled up the use of solar energy.

"The decreasing cost of solar panels is one of the factors that led to rapid increase in solar energy," Desta Mebratu said on the sidelines of the launch of the Global Environmental Outlook report in Nairobi.

He said that Kenya is lucky to have abundant sunlight which can be harnessed to provide power in an environmentally sustainable way.

"One of the advantages of solar power is its portability and is therefore very effective in the remote areas which are not accessible to the national grid," the UNEP official said.

The Kenya government has also contributed to the increased use of solar energy to provide power. A few years back, through a gazette notice, the government removed value added tax and import duty on all solar equipment which brought down the cost of equipment by up to 30 percent.

Prior to this move the high cost of installing solar equipment locked out a large portion of the population from accessing this green energy.

Cheap solar lanterns that retail for as little as 11.6 U.S. dollars can now provide lighting by tapping on sun energy removing the need for burning fossils fuels.

A survey by the private arm of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, revealed that the average household in Kenya used up to 58 U.S. cents daily on kerosene for their lighting needs.

Davis and Shirtliff, a company that deals with solar products has witnessed a phenomenal increase in sales for its products.

The Deputy CEO David Gatende said that due to high demand, sales from solar products increased from 4.6 million dollars in 2010 to 9.3 million dollars in this year.

Solar Manager Norman Chege attributed the steep decline in the cost of solar panels to world production outstripping demand as a result of new technology making more production possible.

"Main markets of solar panels including developed countries such as German which offered subsidies to households who used it for domestic needs abolished the program," Chege said.

He noted that the current global and Euro zone economic crisis led to the end of the subsidies provided by the government which in turn led to a glut of the products in the world market.

According to the World Energy Council, the cost of a solar panel was 4.66 dollars per watt in 2004. The figure however has dropped to 2 dollars per watt in 2011 and is expected to lower to 1 dollar by the end of 2012.

The continued use of fossils fuels is having a negative impact on the environment and the problem grows as economies expand.

"Moreover, demand for electricity is overtaking supply which has led to power rationing," he noted.

The government’s move to require that all households with water heating requirements of more than 100 liters per day to install a solar water heater have also contributed to a boom for vendors in the industry.

"For many households cost of heating water accounts for up to 30 percent of the electricity bill but with the use of the solar energy, clients can dramatically reduce the cost while at the same time help in environmental conservation," he said.

One of the ways Kenya can embrace the green economy is through use of renewable sources of energy such as solar energy and wind power.

According to industry estimates approximately five percent of all electricity in Kenya is generated through use of solar. The figure in 2007 stood at one percent.

Prior to use of solar panels, the country relied on generators which use fossils fuels. However generator could be a thing of the past if Kenya’s embrace green energy as an alternative to power from the national grid.