Why is the coal-dependent EU telling Kenya it can’t use coal to industrialise?

By 29th January 2018Kenya
Why is the coal-dependent EU telling Kenya it can’t use coal to industrialise?

The European Union’s Ambassador to Kenya has demanded that the East African country drop plans to build its first coal-fired power plant.

“Coal has fallen out of favour in the modern market, why would Kenya want to go down that route?” said Ambassador Stefano Dejak last week.

Why indeed? Here’s a rough guide to the east African nation’s thinking.

Kenya views the power plant as central to its poverty reduction plans

35 percent of young people in Kenya are unemployed, while 40 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Kenya has ambitious plans to reach industrialising, middle-income country status by 2030. That in turn will require large amounts of low-cost, stable, predictable energy – which cannot be supplied by weather-dependent renewables.

It’s not either/or

But for the Kenyan government, coal versus renewables is a false dichotomy. The scale of energy need is so great that Kenya needs both. “Given that Kenya requires over 30 gigawatts to be an industrialised nation, we require all kinds of sources of power”, Energy Minister Charles Keter said last year.

The planned new coal plant on the island of Lamu would add 1 gigawatt of baseload energy to Kenya’s national grid, bolstering the country’s limited hydropower capacity while it develops its rich geothermal resources.

EU countries are still heavily dependent on coal

The EU Ambassador’s claim that coal has “fallen out of favour” with the market simply isn’t borne out by the facts. The International Energy Agency predicts that global demand for coal is set to rise over the next five years, with declines in Europe and China more than offset by demand in India and the rest of East Asia.

More importantly, why should Kenya forgo coal when an incredibly wealthy EU country like Germany isn’t willing to do the same? Despite being a renewables powerhouse, Germany currently derives 40% of its electricity from coal – because it still needs back-up power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Indeed, Germany is now reported to be quietly watering down its climate targets.

All of this suggests that the EU should be taking a more nuanced, more pragmatic and less hypocritical approach to energy access in the poorest countries on earth.