Kenya’s national electrification campaign is taking less than half the time it took America

The Oasis Reporters

January 24, 2017
A woman walks her child to school past high voltage electrical pylons on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi,
Getting on the grid. (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)

In the 1930s, the US embarked on a campaign to connect rural parts of the country to electricity. It took more than two decades before 95% of all farms were electrified. Kenya is working on doing that in just seven years.
Kenya added 1.3 million households to its electricity grid last year, raising the percentage of connected Kenyans to 55%, from just 27% in 2013, when the country’s electrification campaign began in earnest. In another four years, Kenya plans to achieve “universal access” where 95% of homes will have access to electricity.

Nigeria’s power generation has sunk into darkness at 1294 MW in the last 18 days for a country of about 180 million people.


Meanwhile in Nigeria, despite all the pre campaign speeches said to have been made by Nigeria’s Power Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola about the provision of electricity which he has long since denied ever making, almost one year and some months after inauguration, not even one hamlet has been added to the National electricity grid. But he spends an awful lot of time giving speeches in blame of Niger Delta militants, lack of enough rains or inadequate gas.
Recently, he accused the household god of his Yoruba ethnic group, Sango, of not being able to produce one kilowatt of electricity.
Neither has he increased electricity production.

Development experts see access to electricity as important for improving everything from education and agricultural productivity to employment. Across the African continent, an estimated 600 million people, or 70% of the population, do not have access to electricity. Kenya would be among the first African countries to achieve universal access to electricity (after Algeria, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.)
If Kenya reaches universal access by 2020, it will have achieved in seven years a level of electrification that took the US a total of 33 years to reach, according to Todd Moss from the Center for Global Development. Electrification rates in Kenya are among the fastest in the region. It took Kenya about three years to get more than half of its population connected to the grid, a process that took the US eight years even at the height of its electrification campaign. (Granted, the US is about 16 times bigger than Kenya in terms of area.)
Kenya will first have to reach its goal of 6.5 million connected households by 2017. As of last month, 5.7 million households had been connected.

Nigeria’s Fashola has not shown enough intellect in the direction of different sources of sorting Nigeria’s electricity woes out.
Fashola was the governor of Lagos state in the South West Zone, whose capital city, Lagos used to be the nation’s federal capital. The economy of Lagos is bigger than the entire economy of Kenya, a country in East Africa. Yet Kenya with it’s limited resources is doing wonders with developmental strides while such an ex governor seem to be pussyfooting about, seemingly unsure of what to do.

Kenya’s electrification campaign is notable in other ways. Much of Kenya’s energy comes from non-fossil fuel sources—more than 60% of installed capacity comes from hydro and geothermal power. Kenya opened the world’s largest geothermal plant last year at the Olkaria Geothermal field in southwestern Kenya where another plant is being built and expected to come online in two years. Kenya is also building Africa’s biggest wind energy farm to generate a fifth of its power.
Still, Kenya’s electricity grid is not without problems. Blackouts are so common that lawmakers considered a bill to require KPLC, to compensate customers if a shortage lasts for more than three hours. During a parliamentary debate last year on the bill the power went out. This week, much of Nairobi, Mount Kenya, and the coast, lost power because of a technical fault. A monkey tripped a transformer last year, causing a nationwide power outage.
In some areas of the country, simply connecting households is not enough. KPLC’s figures only measure physical connections to the grid, not actual consumption, notes Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
A recently published study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Innovations for Poverty Action in Kenya found that in western Kenya, electrification rates remained low, at 5% for rural households and 22% for rural businesses, even in areas of good grid coverage. The study found that 84% of unconnected households were within 200 meters of a connection point.

Unconnected households are marked by green circles. Existing connection points are marked with yellow circles, squares, and triangles. (Development Engineering/”Electrification for “Under Grid” households in Rural Kenya”)

“[Kenya] appears on track, but progress on these types of things are never linear. The closer you get to 100%, the harder it gets, hence, the ‘last mile,’” says Moss.

Lily Kuo (Quartz) with additional reporting by
Greg Abolo (Oasis)

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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