The Energy Outlook in Kenya

The excitement around last mile electrification of Kenya was at its peak in 2015. The government was going forward with an aggressive plan to ensure that the remotest parts of Kenya had access to electricity. Whether the demand was there is a different question all together. The fact was, the government wanted to improve access. By 2019, the World Bank reported that 63.81% of the Kenyans had access to electricity. Kenya has an electricity capacity of up to 2.3 gigawatts. 57% of this is hydro, 32% is thermal and the rest share the remaining 13%.

The Rural Electrification Authority is one of the main players in trying to increase the rural access to electricity after Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) showed gaps in performing its mandate. In 2001, for example, reports showed that only 0.94% of the rural household was connected to the national electricity power grid. While households had increased by 1.4 million from 1993, the new households connected to the grid had only increased by 24,000. That was a huge gap.

With the development that the country has made since 2001, understanding the energy situation in Kenya can help in understanding whether the distribution is right and how the distribution can be made better. One of the main questions one would ask about the aggressive electrification plan between 2001 and 2019 is: Was it necessary? The surface answer is yes. Of course it was necessary. The people need access to electricity and there is need to phase out traditional sources of energy that are not sustainable at all. A further probe, however, reveals a different picture.

Whereas 63.81% of the households are connected to the power grid, the usage is critically lower. Only about 15% of the national population use electricity as a source of lighting according to the World Bank. Compared to the percentage of the people connected to the grid, the gap is huge. 55% of the urban households and 87% of the rural households use kerosene lamps as their primary source of lighting. Why would people stick to the traditional sources of energy when the access to electricity has been improved? In a survey done in Nairobi and Kisumu in 2018, 73.17% of those surveyed indicated that electricity was reliable and only disrupted by unavoidable circumstances. 21.96% said it was moderately reliable while 3.14% said it was unreliable. That means that the performance of the electricity supply side has been improving steadily. Yet only 15% of the national population use it as a primary source of lighting. Why would that disparity exist?

Researchers have attempted to explain the difference between the demand and supply sides of energy in different countries. Case studies from India, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, France, and Nepal have shown one continuing trend. In countries where the supply and demand match better like France and the United States, electricity is a commodity just like any other commodity. The electricity market is dominated by forces of demand and supply just like any other market. The forces of demand and supply determine the price that suffices in the market. Every new connection can be justified by a person that needed it.

In Kenya, it was either a political move or a distribution that considered electricity as a right for the people. Because of the cost involved and the heavy influence of government, the commodity has not been privatized sufficiently. In understanding the energy situation, I will look at different factors from demand and supply to energy policy, gender issues, political issues, and comparison of the Kenyan situation with Africa and the world. Let’s go on a yearlong trip in energy research.