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Kenyan paper slams the West’s fossil fuel hypocrisy

Kenyan paper slams the West’s fossil fuel hypocrisy

By | Developing Countries, Kenya | No Comments

The Kenya Standard has harsh words for Western environmentalists seeking to block Kenya’s plans for a new clean coal power station.

As previously reported, the new coal plant at Lamu on the eastern coast would supply Kenya with 30 percent of its power, and is seen as critical to the country’s plans to modernise and achieve universal electricity coverage. Both the EU and Western environmental groups have condemned the proposal, with the latter accused of hiring local activists to stir up opposition to the plant.

But the Standard has hit back, pointing out the hypocrisy of this stance:

“The lobby groups opposed to the exploitation of the vast deposits of coal with an estimated value of over Sh3.4 trillion [US$34 billion] are largely funded by interest groups in countries that were industrialised using coal power.”

The paper also says that high cost of electricity is a major hurdle for Kenya’s plans to industrialise, with energy costs accounting for a third of manufacturing expenses. And as we and others have repeatedly explained, renewables cannot deliver a manufacturing industry. The blast furnace powered by wind has yet to be invented.

For Western environmentalists sitting in air conditioned offices, the central moral question is this: why should Kenya have to forgo development because the West has spent a century and a half pumping pollution into the air?

Kenya signs energy deal with America’s General Electric

Kenya signs energy deal with America’s General Electric

By | Kenya | No Comments

Kenya has signed an agreement with the US engineering giant General Electric to supply its flagship energy project with the latest “ultra-supercritical” clean coal technology.

The proposed 1050MW coal plant at Lamu on the eastern coast would provide Kenya with 30 percent of its power. It is regarded by the government as central to its plans to achieve middle-income country status by the 2030s.

Ultra-supercritical technology is cleaner than traditional coal systems as it operates at much higher rates of efficiency, meaning less coal burnt and fewer emissions.

Kenya has been pursuing a highly pragmatic “all of the above” approach to power generation, including solar, geothermal, hydro and fossil fuels. This has made it one of Africa’s success stories on energy access, boosting the number of people with an electricity connection from just 27 percent in 2013 to 55 percent in 2016. The Lamu coal plant is intended to help Kenya achieve its ambitious goal of 95 percent access by 2020.

The project has the backing of the African Development Bank, which unlike Western development agencies like the World Bank, has argued that African countries should use all the resources at their disposal to bring desperately needed power to their people.

It will also be welcome news in the White House, which is keen to encourage the export of US energy technology to developing nations as part of its strategy of “energy dominance.”

Speaking at Kenya’s Ministry of Energy this week, Francis Njogbu, Managing Director of the project said:

“This is truly a historic moment for Kenya and the East African region as a whole. We are confident that this partnership forged today will go a long way to position Kenya as an Industrial hub in the continent. Kenya has been looking for ways to enhance its generation mix to provide the most efficient, least-cost and reliable power in a sustainable manner; and the technology offered by GE gives us a unique opportunity to achieve this ambition.”

Kenyans back new coal plant, despite Western objections

Kenyans back new coal plant, despite Western objections

By | Developing Countries, Kenya | No Comments

“I see no reason for them to do it,” says Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program, based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “They should invest heavily in hydro, solar, wind. They are already, but they could do even more.”

Mr Solheim is referring to Kenya’s first ever coal plant, which is currently under construction on the island of Lamu. The plant will provide what Kenya – a country where 44 million people live below the poverty line – most most to attract investment: electricity to power a big road and rail project aimed at connecting its landlocked neighbours to a new port. To mitigate the environmental impact, the Lamu plant will employ the latest Chinese “supercritical” technology, which produces less CO2 per unit of energy.

Unlike Western UN environmentalists, many of the locals are convinced that the plant is needed. “If it comes with a job I’m ready to take it,” says 18-year-old Shebwana Mohammed. The Kenyan government agrees. “Given that Kenya requires over 30 gigawatts to be an industrialised nation, we require all kinds of sources of power”, according to Energy Minister Charles Keter.

Despite this, the EU has urged Kenya to drop its plans for the new plant, a flagrantly hypocritical position given that the EU’s largest economy Germany relies on coal for 40 percent of its power. And as Africa’s biggest investor in geothermal energy, Kenya can hardly be accused of eschewing green power.

The East African nation is likely to find a more sympathetic audience in the US, which is in the process of a launching an international Clean Coal Alliance to promote high efficiency coal technology. At a press conference this week, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said it was “immoral” to seek to prevent African countries from using fossil fuels to bring electricity to poverty-stricken populations.

Sub-Saharan African nations are clearly determined to follow the West’s fossil fuel powered path to industrialisation. Rather than trying to halt that process, the wealthiest nations should be seeking to help them use coal and gas in the cleanest possible way. America’s new pragmatism represents a welcome change of direction.

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

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

By | Kenya | No Comments

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.

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

Economist: Africans consuming less electricity now than in the 80s

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

According to the World Bank, the proportion of Africans with access to electricity increased from 19% in 1991 to 37% in 2014. But as a recent article in the Economist points out, this is nowhere near as impressive as it seems.

More people than ever may be connected to the grid, but they are not consuming more electricity. In 2014 each African consumed, on average, just 483 kilowatt hours (kWh). That is less than in the 1980s.

By contrast, Americans use 13,000 kWh each on average. Indeed, in the West, a typical family fridge consumes several times more power than a whole family of Nigerians.

As the Economist says:

“Some greens may hail such frugality. They should not: the alternative to electricity is often filthy, dangerous charcoal stoves and kerosene lamps. Besides, if utilities are unable to sell enough electricity to cover their costs then they cannot invest in maintaining or modernising their grids.”

Worldwide, power consumption is strongly correlated to GDP. The more electricity you use, the richer your country is likely to be. Yet this is not the case in Africa, where many countries use less power than their national incomes would suggest.

According to the Economist, this is because Africa has so little of the world’s manufacturing and heavy industries, who are the biggest consumers of electricity. In turn that keeps demand for power low in the rest of the economy. Without industrialisation and the good jobs it brings, ordinary Africans just can’t afford more electricity.

It’s why an approach to energy access which stresses small-scale solar powered solutions – while the ignoring the needs of industrial consumers – is unlikely to do much to alleviate poverty. To power Africa, all forms of energy will have to be used.

Kenya adds gas to the energy mix

Kenya adds gas to the energy mix

By | Kenya | No Comments

Kenya is one of Africa’s great success stories when it comes to electricity access. From 2013-2016 the proportion of households with an electricity connection rose from 27 per cent to 55 per cent, and the government is aiming to provide 95 per cent energy access by 2020.

The government’s strategy is to diversify its current energy portfolio as demonstrated by the growing number of energy projects including hydropower, solar and geothermal, and a recent announcement sees the East African nation add natural gas to the mix.

The United States Trade and Development Agency (USDTA) has given a $996,600 grant to Zarara Oil & Gas to scope out the potential economic impacts of a 50-200 MW gas-to-power station on Pate Island.

Kenya is taking the right approach towards energy access by using all available resources. As Kofi Annan reiterated earlier this year at a panel on energy access: “each country needs to be decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient mix that works best for its own needs.”

588 million people currently live without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 57 percent of the total population. This figure is projected to grow to 600 million by 2030, according to a recent report.

Kenya provides a shining example of an energy policy strategy that will provide a affordable, secure and reliable electricity for all.

Energy investment in Africa fell by $14 billion during 2016

Energy investment in Africa fell by $14 billion during 2016

By | Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

Financing of energy projects in Africa fell by $14billion in 2016, according to a report from the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA).

Established at the 2005 G8 Summit, the ICA is an international NGO that advocates for greater infrastructure development in Africa.

The report shows that public and private investment in energy fell from a historic high of 33.5 billion in 2015 to $20 billion in 2016, including the World Bank, which cut its spending by $800 million.

600 million Africans currently live without electricity, and this number is expected to rise to remain stubbornly unchanged, even by 2030. Investment cannot fall if we are to guarantee secure and affordable energy access to the world’s poorest.

As the World Bank themselves have said, the advantages of universal energy access would bring enormous benefits: 1.5 trillion extra hours of paid work, savings of $38 billion on kerosene and charcoal, and 300 million school-aged children studying in better conditions.

US Energy Secretary: we’re here to help Africa use fossil fuels and use them cleanly

US Energy Secretary: we’re here to help Africa use fossil fuels and use them cleanly

By | Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has promised that the US is ready to help expand electricity access across Africa, including from fossil fuels.

Speaking at a regional energy conference in South Africa, Mr Perry argued it was time to break the “culture of shame” around fossil fuels and use new technology to make them cleaner.

Mr Perry said he was concerned about the low levels of electricity access across Africa, where 600 million people still live without power – a number which is predicted to remain unchanged, even by 2030:

“Development starts when you have a power supply,” he said, adding that Washington is prepared to help countries develop their energy systems “from all sources.”

Leaders in Africa have previously stressed the need for a pragmatic approach to power generation. In a speech earlier this year, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said:

“Each country needs to decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient energy mix that works best for its own needs.”

Mr Perry was also critical of multilateral development banks like the World Bank, which currently restrict funding for fossil fuel projects in the poorest countries, warning that it was time for them to “take their thumb off the scale” and prioritise access to affordable power.

Rather than try to restrict access to fossil fuels, the US is banking on new technology like carbon capture and storage, which experts which experts say will be essential for the fight against climate change.

“We will invest in African energy projects, but it’s also time to let technology be your friend”, Mr Perry said.

“We will help this continent make more power, and we will do it cleanly.”

4 reasons why the World Bank is wrong about off-grid solar

4 reasons why the World Bank is wrong about off-grid solar

By | Developing Countries, India, Kenya | 4 Comments

Off-grid home solar systems are often held up as the answer to energy poverty in rural Africa. Small-scale solar systems, like a rooftop solar panel connected to a battery, are relatively cheap to install and can supply power for basic amenities like lighting, radio and charging a mobile phone.

The World Bank admitted in a 2017 blog that “the major downside of off-grid solar is that the relatively low amount of supplied electricity limits what those systems can do for the productive use of electricity.”

“However,” they continue, “electricity usage patterns in newly electrified areas in rural Africa are often such that solar is able to meet those demands.”

In other words, the poorest don’t need much electricity, so we only have to give them the bare minimum.

Here are 4 reasons why this muddled thinking is completely wrong.

1. Massive amounts of energy are needed to transform Africa’s rural economies

Africa currently spends $35 billion a year IMPORTING food from richer countries. This is because African farms lack the powered equipment and infrastructure to compete with the rest of the world.

As Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank put it in a recent speech:

“Africa cannot develop in the dark. Farmers cannot store food, irrigation systems cannot function and food agribusiness and industries cannot operate for lack of power.”

Without a revolution in African agriculture – which in turn requires large energy inputs – Africa’s rural poor will stay poor.

2. The benefits of “leapfrogging” have been wildly overstated

Leapfrogging is the argument that poor countries can use technology to bypass certain stages of development. For example, using drones to fly medicine “leapfrogs” the need to build decent roads, while mobile phones “leapfrog” the need for a fixed telecoms infrastructure.

The same argument is made about energy, where off-grid solar supposedly bypasses the need for power stations and pylons.

But as recent paper by Harvard Kenny School’s Calestous Juma argues, “leapfrogging industrial development is not an option”.

Juma’s point is that while it may benefit individuals to have access to mobile phones, to create a tech industry there is no getting away from the need for fiber optic broadband and mobile phone masts. It’s the same with energy. The ability to charge a phone using off-grid solar is better than nothing, but you can’t use off-grid solar to power a mobile phone factory.

Not only that, large complex infrastructure projects like power stations give Africans the engineering skills they need to create future prosperity. Kenya’s geothermal industry, for example, has spurred a whole generation of expert Kenyan engineers.

3. Solar panels are cheap to install, but hard to maintain

Solar equipment requires regular maintenance to work properly. India’s experience is instructive. A massive government-sponsored drive to electrify rural villages in Maharashtra ended in failure when villagers found they couldn’t fix the solar panels when they broke down.

“Most of the equipment is either stolen or not working,” said the project manager. “Now we have decided that a majority of these villages will be electrified in the conventional way.”

4. Given a choice, most people would prefer the grid

Something often overlooked in this debate, are the preferences of Africans themselves.

Yet polling evidence from Ghana and Tanzania shows that when people who aren’t on the grid but do have other forms of electricity are asked if they’d like a grid connection, a clear majority say yes.

It’s completely unacceptable that we live in a world where the average American fridge consumes 9 times more power than the average Ethiopian. But by pushing off-grid solar as an alternative to grid electrification that’s how things are likely to stay.

African Development Bank breaks ranks with the World Bank to back coal in Kenya

By | Kenya | No Comments

The African Development Bank is in in talks with Kenya to part-fund the construction of a new coal plant, bank officials revealed this week.

Kenya has some of the most ambitious energy plans of sub-Saharan African country, and is aiming to bring electricity to 95% of the population by 2020.

The national electrification rate stood at just 20 percent in 2014, according to the IEA.

The new coal plant on the island of Lamu would add 1 gigawatt of baseload energy to Kenya’s national grid, providing round-the-clock power to a country that is desperate to industrialise.

To mitigate the environmental impact, it will employ the latest Chinese “supercritical” technology, which produces less CO2 per unit of energy.

Kenya’s government are pursuing a balanced energy mix, and have also sought to exploit the country’s abundant geothermal resources. Ministers accept however that renewables alone will not be able to supply power on the scale needed to develop the economy.

“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 in May.

The African Development Bank, which is helping to fund the project in partnership with the private sector, has taken a more pragmatic view on coal than western counterparts such as the World Bank.

“Africa must develop its energy sector with what it has,” AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said. “Endowed with many different energy sources – both renewable and conventional – Africa needs a balanced energy mix.”

He added: “This must include renewable and conventional sources of power.”