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Load Shedding in Kenya: A Looming Crisis or a Wake-Up Call?

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It is now the third time that Kenya has been plunged into darkness as witnessed on the 10th of December, 20:00hrs EAT. The previous case happened in August and now the Energy CS, David Chirchir has hinted on a possible rationing/load shedding as maintenance and building of new distribution channels are to take effect. Kenya, a country that has been seen to be in the forefront of spearheading ESG and adoption of renewables seems to be falling back on it’s mandate or this just a case of poor governance?

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Load Shedding in Kenya: A Looming Crisis or a Wake-Up Call?

Kenya is facing the possibility of scheduled power outages, known as load shedding, in the near future. This is due to the lack of adequate power transmission lines to distribute the electricity generated from various sources. Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir has revealed that the government is contemplating this measure to prevent overloading the grid and causing nationwide blackouts, as happened on Sunday, December 10, 2023

Load shedding is a strategy to balance the available power with the demand, ensuring a more stable and reliable electricity supply for everyone. It involves cutting off power to certain areas or sectors for a specified period of time, usually on a rotational basis. While this may sound like a reasonable solution to avoid a complete collapse of the power system, it comes with significant economic, social and environmental costs.

The Economic Impact of Load Shedding

Load shedding has a negative impact on the productivity and profitability of various sectors of the economy, especially the manufacturing, mining, agriculture and service industries. These sectors rely heavily on electricity to operate machinery, equipment, computers and other devices. When power is interrupted, they have to halt their operations, incur losses, delay deliveries, reduce output and quality, and sometimes lay off workers. According to a study by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, load shedding costs the country about 0.4% of its GDP annually

Load shedding also affects the competitiveness of Kenyan businesses in the regional and global markets. Kenya is already lagging behind its neighbours in terms of electricity access and affordability. According to the World Bank, only 75% of Kenyans have access to electricity, compared to 89% in Uganda, 97% in Rwanda and 100% in Ethiopia Moreover, Kenyan manufacturers pay an average of Sh16 per kilowatt-hour, which is higher than the regional average of Sh12 Load shedding will further increase the cost of doing business and erode the confidence of investors and consumers.

The Social Impact of Load Shedding

Load shedding also has a detrimental effect on the quality of life and well-being of Kenyans. It disrupts the normal functioning of households, schools, hospitals, public services and other essential facilities. It affects the provision of health care, education, water, sanitation, security and communication. It exposes people to health and safety risks, such as food spoilage, water contamination, fire hazards, crime and violence. It also limits the opportunities for leisure, entertainment, socialization and personal development.

Curtesy of BBC
Curtesy of BBC: A pupil using a candle to study

Load shedding also exacerbates the existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in the society. It affects the poor and marginalized groups more than the rich and privileged ones. It widens the gap between the urban and rural areas, where access to electricity is already unequal. It also increases the gender disparities, as women and girls bear the brunt of the domestic chores and responsibilities that require electricity, such as cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing. It also limits their access to education, information, employment and empowerment.

The Environmental Impact of Load Shedding

Load shedding also has an adverse impact on the environment and the climate. It encourages the use of alternative sources of energy, such as diesel generators, kerosene lamps, charcoal stoves and firewood. These sources are not only expensive and inefficient, but also emit harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to air pollution, respiratory diseases, deforestation, desertification and global warming. They also deplete the natural resources and biodiversity that are vital for the ecological balance and sustainability.

Load shedding also undermines the efforts to transition to a green and low-carbon economy. Kenya has made significant strides in developing and harnessing renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, hydro, wind and solar. These sources are clean, cheap, abundant and renewable. They have the potential to meet the growing demand for electricity and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and imports. However, load shedding reduces the incentives and returns for investing in renewable energy projects and infrastructure. It also creates uncertainty and instability in the power sector and the energy market.

The Way Forward for Kenya

Load shedding is not inevitable or irreversible. It can be avoided or minimized by taking proactive and preventive measures to address the underlying causes and challenges of the power sector. Some of these measures include:

  • Expanding and upgrading the power transmission and distribution network to increase its capacity, efficiency and reliability. This will reduce the losses, leakages and bottlenecks that hamper the flow of electricity from the generation to the consumption points.
  • Enhancing the maintenance and management of the existing power plants and equipment to improve their performance, availability and lifespan. This will reduce the breakdowns, faults and outages that affect the power supply and quality.
  • Accelerating the completion and commissioning of the ongoing and planned power projects, especially the coal-fired plants of Medupi and Kusile, which are expected to add 9,564 MW of capacity to the grid. This will increase the power generation and diversification and reduce the supply-demand gap.
  • Promoting the development and integration of renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, hydro, wind and solar, into the national grid. This will reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and imports and increase the affordability and sustainability of electricity.
  • Implementing the reforms and recommendations of the Presidential Taskforce on Independent Power Producers, which was chaired by John Ngumi. This will improve the governance, regulation and oversight of the power sector and address the issues of corruption, mismanagement and sabotage that have plagued Eskom and other stakeholders.
  • Encouraging the participation and involvement of the private sector, the civil society and the consumers in the power sector. This will enhance the competition, innovation and accountability in the sector and foster a culture of transparency, responsibility and efficiency.

The Lessons from South Africa

Kenya can learn from the experience and example of South Africa, which has been grappling with load shedding for more than a decade. South Africa is one of the most electrified countries in Africa, but also one of the most affected by power cuts. The country has suffered from load shedding for 232 days as of September 2023, which is about 1.5 times more than what was experienced in 2022

The main causes of load shedding in South Africa are similar to those in Kenya: ageing infrastructure, poor maintenance, corruption, mismanagement and sabotage. The consequences are also similar: economic losses, social disruptions, environmental damages and political instability. The solutions are also similar: expanding and upgrading the power network, enhancing the maintenance and management of the power plants, accelerating the completion and commissioning of the power projects, promoting the development and integration of renewable energy sources, implementing the reforms and recommendations of the power sector, and encouraging the participation and involvement of the stakeholders.

However, South Africa also offers some unique insights and lessons for Kenya. One of them is the importance of diversifying the power sector and reducing the monopoly and dominance of Eskom, the state-owned utility that generates, transmits and distributes electricity in the country. Eskom has been accused of being inefficient, corrupt, politicized and unaccountable. It has also been resistant to change and reform, especially in terms of embracing renewable energy and allowing independent power producers to enter the market.

Another lesson is the need to balance the social and environmental objectives of the power sector with the economic and financial realities. South Africa has been struggling to keep the electricity tariffs affordable and accessible for the poor and vulnerable segments of the society, while also ensuring the viability and sustainability of Eskom and other power providers. The government has been subsidizing Eskom and bailing it out of its debts, but this has also increased the fiscal burden and the public debt.

A third lesson is the role of innovation and adaptation in coping with load shedding and mitigating its impacts. South Africans have developed various strategies and technologies to deal with the power cuts, such as installing solar panels, batteries, inverters, generators and smart meters, using energy-efficient appliances and devices, switching to gas or biogas for cooking and heating, and adopting flexible working hours and arrangements.

Conclusion

Load shedding is a serious and complex problem that affects Kenya and other African countries. It has negative and far-reaching implications for the economy, the society and the environment. It also poses a threat to the development and stability of the country. However, load shedding is not insurmountable or inevitable. It can be prevented or minimized by taking appropriate and timely measures to address the challenges and opportunities of the power sector. Kenya can also learn from the experience and example of South Africa, which has been facing load shedding for a long time. By doing so, Kenya can ensure a reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity supply for its people and its future.

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