Is Solar Power Next For Kenya, The ‘King’ of Renewables?

Kenya is definitely the king of renewables in Africa. It is 3rd place in the world for the proportion of its electricity from renewable sources, behind only Costa Rica and Norway.

As such, it has been largely protected from the spiking fossil prices and concerns about the security of the supply of imported fossil fuels that shook much of the world in year 2022.

That’s according to Ember’s Global Electricity Review published this week, which analysed electricity generation for every country in the world, including 2022 data for 78 countries.

Solar and wind are taking off across the world. Together, they supplied 12% of global electricity in year 2022, up from just 5% when the Paris Agreement was signed back in 2015.

Solar has been the fastest-rising electricity source for 18 years in a row, and the annual rise alone in solar generation last year was enough to power the whole of South Africa. This rise is a global phenomenon, with 60 countries now getting over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar. Kenya is higher than the global average: in 2022, it produced 19.7% of its electricity from wind and solar, with the majority from wind and just 6.41% from solar.

However, solar is beginning to emerge in Kenya. From 2018 to 2022, solar capacity tripled, whereas wind capacity rose by just 30%, according to IRENA. It is clear that Kenya wants to keep its throne as king of renewables. President Ruto is pledging to reach the milestone of 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

A Ministry of Energy draft white paper is making an even bolder proposition: to build economic growth around renewable electricity, proposing to increase renewable capacity from 3GW to 100GW in 18 years.

KenGen’s latest investment plans are to add just 3GW in the next 10 years, which is predominantly geothermal and hydro capacity. It remains to be seen where the rest of the growth will come from. Solar could be the missing piece of the puzzle.

With its prime location on the equator, Kenya has more potential for solar than any other renewable electricity source: eight times as much as geothermal, and 13 times as much as hydro. To maximise the potential of solar, Kenya needs a strategy for all sectors: household rooftops, industrial and commercial premises, large-scale solar farms, and mini-grids.

Rooftop solar is the most popular globally. In our report, we described how one in 5 solar panels installed globally last year were on rooftops in China. In Europe, rooftop solar accounted for 2/3 of installations in 2022. Large grid-scale solar has taken off in many countries. Namibia has seen solar power quadruple in just four years, from 6% of electricity in 2017 to 24% in 2021, making it the African country with the highest share of solar power.

Qatar brought online 800 MW of solar in 2022 on a single site. Hydroelectric dams also provide an ideal site for floating solar, harnessing existing grid connections, reducing water evaporation, and compensating for lower electricity output in dry years.

The options for solar are limitless. And technology is about to take off in a huge way worldwide. Indeed, the head of the International Energy Agency called solar the ‘king’ of electricity.

The question remains whether Kenya–the king of renewables–will harness solar’s full potential on its journey to 100 per cent renewable electricity this decade.