China’s contribution to Kenya’s transition to renewable energy

The creation of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation FOCAC heralded a new beginning in the context of Sino-Africa relations. Through this platform, China has considerably deepened its relations to Africa and widened its fields of action.

With it, countries are now able to conduct collective consultations and carry out pragmatic cooperation.

Its effectiveness is seen, in that, according to the Chinese State Council information, 52 percent of China’s foreign assistance funds has flowed into 51 African nations and the African Union since it was founded.

Under FOCAC, for instance, China has made a huge commitment to finance green energy projects across Africa. Indeed, both in 2015 and 2018 during the FOCAC summits in Johannesburg and Beijing respectively, a large share of the billions of dollars pledged as Chinese financial support to Africa were to be spent on energy infrastructure projects.

It is easy to see why energy was given such enormous attention. What is not a secret is the fact that Africa still faces tremendous electricity access challenges. Access to modern energy services is one of the most severe impediments to development not only in Africa but also in other developing countries.

To achieve meaningful and sustainable development, African countries have no option but to work towards improved energy efficiency. In this regard, experts concur that an area with huge prospects in the continent is green energy development. This as the UN highlights doubling electricity from renewable energy sources as one of the 17 sustainable development goals.

The situation in Kenya

Chinese-backed financing is fueling the development of energy infrastructure across the continent. The International Power Agency estimates that nearly a third of all new electric power facilities in sub-Saharan Africa is being built by China.

The energy sector in Kenya is no different from other African countries. The sector is facing chronic challenges due to limited investments in power system upgrading.

It is therefore encouraging to note that drawing on its own experience, China is actively supporting the implementation of clean energy projects in Kenya and the whole of Africa.

For instance, with support from China, Kenya is making great strides in its push to expand its renewable energy sources.  China’s Jianxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Co-operation (CJIC) in conjunction with Kenya’s Rural Energy Authority (REA) designed and built one of East Africa’s largest photovoltaic electricity stations in Garissa, in the arid northern part of the country.  The project was completed in record time and has since been launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya expects to harvest a minimum of 400 MW from solar.

The power plant has been connected to the national grid and has transformed the fortunes of the people residing in this part of the world.

This is an area that initially depended on diesel-powered generators, which were expensive and unreliable. Through advanced technologies, the Chinese company tapped into the region’s solar capacity to harness power.

The situation in Garissa and the larger Northern Kenya is a complete turnaround. Power blackouts is a thing of the past. Businesses are flourishing as locals enjoy uninterrupted electricity supply. This is expected to further attract industrial investments in the region as the north now boasts steady power and a low cost of electricity.

The solar plant puts Kenya on the path of achieving green energy sufficiency as the country also runs one of the largest wind farms on the continent.

Aside from the provision of power, the project also generated employment for the locals. It is expected that the solar power plant, sitting on an 85-acre piece of land will continue providing opportunities to the residence especially given that the panels require constant servicing, cleaning, and routine checkups.

The project was funded through a government-to-government agreement between Kenya and China. The equipment and technologies are from China.

Solar power generation is a game-changer, seeing as the country has over the years depended on hydropower.

This coming at a time another Chinese firm, China Aerospace Construction Group (CACG), is setting up a 40km, 400kV Isinya-Konza power transmission line. China Exim Bank is funding the project that is set for completion in a few months’ time.

The power project includes the construction of four 250km high voltage power transmission and distribution lines. In addition, the project will see the expansion of eight power transformation stations.

The new transmission and distribution line will power Konza and the surrounding counties such as Machakos, Kajiado, and Makueni.

At the same time, the Kenyan government awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a Chinese energy firm to build a 220/66kV Gas Insulated Switchgear GIS substation that will boost the power supply to the capital city of Nairobi.

The $130 million project to be undertaken by Tebian Electric Apparatus TBEA, is also being funded through the Export-Import Bank of China through a 20-year concessional loan.

The substation is expected to boost the quality of the power supply while reducing maintenance costs and lowering the risks that come with overhead cables.

All and sundry agree that these Chinese investments offer a much-needed boost to the development of the manufacturing industry, a key pillar to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda.

Eric Biegon is a Multimedia Journalist with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, KBC.


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