Race to the Sun: Kenya’s aspirations for Solar Energy

December 4, 2020 - 5 minutes read

Kenya Power has recorded losses in the last financial year and according to KPLC, the losses were due to top clients turning to solar as a source of energy. Clients such as factories, universities and companies who according to Business Daily on Friday 20th of November 2020 were 54.8% of all KPLC clients. This shift to solar has contributed to the growth in demand stagnating at an approximate of 2.3% in 2020, below the projected growth of 5% causing further injuries to KPLC’s already dwindling finances.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), Kenya’s energy sector regulatory body, has come up with draft regulations regarding the use of solar energy in Kenya. EPRA’s new regulations propose licensee fees, penalties, educational and professional qualifications of licensees. EPRA has broadened licences issued to technicians to three levels. To hold a T3 licence one has to hold a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or similar qualification. EPRA has also proposed an expansion of licences into 4 classes: Solar PV, Workers 1(SPW1), SPW2, SPW3 and SPW4.

According to the Regulatory Impact Assessment that followed the draft regulations, these regulations seek to deal with gaps that have been identified in the current regulations over the last 6 years in order to align the Regulations with the Energy Act. The benefits of these regulations include:

  • protecting end users from substandard solar photovoltaic products, 
  • to enhance the quality of solar photovoltaic systems, 
  • to facilitate the collection of energy data, as well as 
  • to promote fair business practices.

EPRA’s new rules have elicited a nationwide debate with most people calling EPRA out for mischief as the proposed regulations will curtail the growth of solar energy as an alternative source of energy and limit competition with traditional sources of energy and power houses such as Kenya Power.

The Energy Act in Section 75 provides that the Cabinet Secretary responsible for energy shall promote the development and use of renewable energy technologies which include solar energy. This raises one key question: Are the draft regulations really promoting the use of renewable energy?

EPRA’s new rules seem to be limiting the objectives of the National Energy Policy, 2018 that go hand in hand with the Constitution of Kenya 2010 as well as Kenya’s Vision 2030. The objectives of the Energy Policy are to ensure affordable, competitive, sustainable and reliable supply of energy to meet national and county development needs at least cost, while protecting and conserving the environment.

The Finance Act seems to also limit the intention of the Energy Act in terms of the promotion of solar energy as a source of renewable energy. The Finance Act 2018 exempted from VAT specialized equipment for the development and generation of solar and wind energy, including deep cycle batteries which use or store solar power. The Finance Act 2019 has now made it a requirement that recommendation be sought from the Cabinet Secretary responsible for energy matters before such exemption is processed.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims at increasing energy supply so as to achieve support for development projects under the Vision 2030. Some parts of Vision 2030 such as infrastructure, science, technology and innovation, housing and urbanization are inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure which are crucial drivers of the economy require a significant amount of energy in order to be achieved. The new EPRA regulations may limit energy production to that effect. The best possible solution is to have low cost energy production with the least limitations as long as the energy is safe.

Kenya’s economic blueprint, the Big 4 Agenda, would also benefit from use of cheap or cheaper energy solutions in order to achieve its goals. According to the Agenda, affordable housing includes electricity at low cost, enhancing manufacturing also requires a good amount of energy sources, this would definitely use cheap cost of energy production. The government also plans to build a modern industrial park in various towns, set up  clothes manufacturing sheds in Athi River, start a leather park for leather apparel in Machakos, remove hindrances for exporting agricultural-based processed products, curb the importation of some goods (for example, finished leather), among others Limitations to solar energy production will limit the achievement of these goals.

Conclusion:

The creation of standards in terms of regulations should emphasize more on the safety of technologies and ensure efficiency and not limit the development of the use of solar technology in Kenya.

The technology itself, while devoid of monthly bills is expensive to acquire, issues such as fees and licencing should be regulated in such a manner that would not lock out people that would have otherwise been well qualified to handle solar energy installation and production or that have been handling solar equipment well so far. 

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