Kenya’s transition to sustainable energy

  • 5 Jun 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Naisiae Simiren

The negative impact on climate change by human activities has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Advancement of technology led to new methods of exploration and use of energy resources. Parties to the Paris Agreement committed to pursuing efforts that will see global temperature rise limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The continued rise in global temperature will lead to more global warming effects such as forest fires, melting ice, and heatwaves among other dire consequences. According to the Paris Agreement, this entailed an energy transition which leaves a lot of questions about the outcome of such efforts. Different countries have different policies and regulations on energy transition, some policies seek to achieve zero carbon whereas some allow for carbon offsetting. These policies are known as “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) that are voluntary and non-binding.

Kenya’s contribution to global emissions is a mere 0.1% which is negligible compared to advanced economies like China, the United States, Russia, India, Japan and European Union. In 2016 Kenya’s NDC under the Paris Agreement was to abate greenhouse gas emission (GHG) by 30% relative to business as usual (BAU) by 2030 though the Paris Agreement targeted 2025. Kenya’s NDC was on condition of getting aid from developed countries which the Ministry of Environment in 2020 while updating its NDC to 32% relative to BAU by 2030 stated that it relied on its domestic resources. The Ministry noted that it would cost Kenya up to USD 62 billion to realize its commitment.  

Kenya has various legislations and policies that support the NDC these include; the Constituion on the right to a clean and healthy environment, Climate Change Act, Vision 2030, National Climate Response Strategy, National Climate Change Action Plan, National Adaptation Plan and National Climate Change Framework Policy. These policies provide a roadmap for the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions and their implementation framework.

Despite these policies, investments in oil and gas exploration continue as other methods of combating climate change are explored. It is important to note that oil and gas continue to be the primary source of energy amidst the call for a transition to renewable sources. This is because of a lack of engineering to ensure reliability and predictability on fluctuations and intermittency of renewable sources such as wind and solar.

 The Ministry of Environment in its submission of updated NDC to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, noted that Kenya has huge oil and coal reserves that would benefit the country in achieving its development milestones. However, the submissions noted the environmental impact associated with exploring these two fossil fuel resources against the economic benefits accruable in exploitation.  

While there have been proposals to explore coal, Tullow Oil’s joint venture discovered oil in Turkana County in 2012 and has over the period made successful oil explorations in the block areas. In the environmental impact assessment report, it was noted that the greatest GHG emission was from the gas turbines in the upstream project. To this end, the report recommended measures such as gas reinjection and waste heat recovery.  Project Oil Kenya has stalled since the first sale of crude oil from the Early Pilot Oil Scheme. Financial investment in oil and gas exploration is crucial, Tullow formed a joint venture with Africa Oil and Total Energies who each acquired 25% with Tullow being a majority shareholder.  However, the two minority shareholders filed a notice to withdraw from the joint venture citing differences in internal strategies.

The disinvestment of the two companies which have shifted to other countries raises a lot of questions on the viability of the oil project which the government noted a KSh 3 billion loss from the first sale of crude oil.

Notwithstanding the recent developments surrounding the oil exploration in Turkana County and the Government’s hope to economically benefiting from the oil project; significant change has been noted in the clean energy transition in the transport industry which mostly relies on oil. Kenya has become an investment hub for e-mobility companies such as BasiGo this has attracted foreign direct investment for companies looking to invest in businesses and infrastructure related to renewables. This also has a ripple effect in improving the rate of job employment in the country.

Other measures in support of the energy transition include President Ruto’s tree planting campaign launched last year in December which seeks to plant 15 billion trees by 2032. The President noted that the trees will aid in reducing greenhouse emissions and restore 5.1 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscape. In addition, the President has stated that Kenya whose 93% energy is green intends to move it to 100% which he reiterated informed his decision not to sign the oil and gas deal with Tanzania.

Notably, while the global world is moving towards clean energy, factors such as the growing population, the need to prioritise development and ending poverty among others need to be considered. Developing countries such as Kenya cannot immediately do away with the use of fossil fuel energy as a majority of the population is still using wood as a source of energy and technologies such as e-mobility are limited to urban areas. There is a need to integrate the use of fossil fuel and renewable sources as a step toward a 100% energy transition that suits the needs of Kenya.