Kenya sets record straight on solar goals

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Wildly varying reports of Kenya’s plans for deploying solar energy have been dismissed by power industry and policy figures in the East African country.

Last week the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that Kenya was planning to source over 50% of its electricity by 2016 from solar projects across just nine separate sites, at a cost of US$1.2 billion.

These claims, citing an employee of the Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KREA), were at odds with a report by the Bloomberg news service before Christmas suggesting some kind of moratorium had been placed on the issuing of licences for solar and wind projects in the country until 2017.

But following inquiries by PV Tech, both claims have been debunked by figures in Kenya’s energy ministry, regulator and national power utility company.

The Guardian report cited comments from Cliff Owiti, a senior administrator with Kenya Renewable Energy Association (KEREA) claiming that the country had identified nine sites where it was planning to build solar plants to supply “half the country’s electricity by 2016”.

But Kevin Sang, communications officer for the electricity utility, Kenya Power, said The Guardian claims were “farfetched” and confirmed Kenya Power had been given no government direction in regard to a 50% penetration of solar.

Meanwhile, Lee Okombe, spokesman for Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), dismissed the Guardian report.

“I have liaised with KEREA and I can firmly report that the Guardian report is null and void. Cliff Owiti was not interviewed and so the information in that report has no basis. As of now there are no specific targets for solar energy in the country,” Okombe said.

Owiti did not respond in person to PV Tech’s questions about the basis of the report. In an email to PV Tech, the association’s chairman, Charles Muchunku, deferred questions to the country’s energy ministry.

“We are an association made up of private business. We don't make policy, where possible we try and make a case for policies more conducive for the RE [renewable energy] sector in Kenya,” he added.

Janosch Ondraczek, a researcher on the solar energy markets of East Africa Hamburg University, pointed out that the US$1.2 billion figure quoted in the Guardian would only purchase around 600MW of solar – not enough to double the country’s current generation capacity, as stated in the report. Kenya currently has an installed generation capacity of around 1,600MW.

‘No moratorium’

PV Tech has also been able to confirm that no official moratorium has been placed on the issuing of licences for solar in Kenya.

The Bloomberg report that originally carried these claims quoted Kenya’s energy secretary Davis Chirchir, who apparently said the issuing of licences for solar and wind projects had been suspended until 2017.

After the initial report appeared at the end of last year, inquiries into the matter were inconclusive, with relevant parties claiming ignorance of any brake on solar development rather than issuing outright denials of the article.

However, the Ministry of Energy, ERC and Kenya Power have all now issued equivocal statements to PV Tech that no solar moratorium has been instituted.

Dickson Murira, a senior economist in the ministry’s renewable energy department, told PV Tech the report was “untrue and misleading”.

“The government of Kenya recognises the role of renewable energy and [its] positive environmental benefits, and remains committed to enhancing private investment in the solar energy sector,” Murira said.

He said the Kenyan government was still pursuing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind as part of a national plan to build 5GW of new generation capacity by 2017 – although much of this is expected to come from coal and gas plants.

Kenya Power’s Sang confirmed: “There is no moratorium on any technology. The only condition that has been added is for wind power developers under the feed-in tariff for their projects not to be within a radius of 50km from an existing Ministry of Energy Metmast (data logger).”

The ERC’s Okombe added: “We are still issuing licences for solar projects so there is no need for worry by investors.”

A recent draft energy strategy for Kenya set provisional solar targets of 100MW by 2017, 200MW by 2022 and 500MW by 2030.

Since setting a revised feed-in tariff rate of US$0.12 at the end of 2012, the energy ministry has been inviting bids for large-scale PV projects.

Kenya’s director of renewable energy, Isaac Kiva, revealed in an interview with PV Tech’s sister journal, Solar Business Focus, that since the FiT revision, the government had received applications for PV projects totalling around 300MW.

These projects are now under consideration by the authorities and will be issued licences as long as they satisfy technical feasibility and financial criteria.

One source who did not want to be named said Kenya was “open for solar business”.

-Additional reporting by Ben Willis

A full version of the interview with Isaac Kiva will be published in the next issue of Solar Business Focus, in early February. Kiva will be a keynote speaker at our event Solar and Off-Grid Renewables Africa 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, in March. Further information is available here.

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