A bittersweet moment: Response to the just ended 7th Devolution Conference

Kenya has committed upwards of USD 50 billion for climate mitigation and resilience efforts. This is great, but the country also needs to re-look its energy generation and usage if it is to make meaningful and lasting reductions in GHG emissions.

The just concluded Devolution Conference in Makueni County was a bittersweet moment. On the one-hand, it can be considered a success as a celebration of the milestones achieved by Kenya since the adoption of the 2010 Constitution. Since then, as a nation, Kenya has experienced relative peace, while counties, as devolved units of government, have brought marked development to areas that have long suffered from under-investment. While the development journey has not been uniform, it is fair to say that all counties have realised improvements in most, if not all, socio-economic indicators, including health, education, infrastructure and entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, what was echoed by speakers at the conference was the missed opportunity to leverage devolution to tackle the current issue of climate change.

The effects of climate change are not new, nor are they specific to Africa. However, they disproportionately affect developing nations like Kenya. However, the response from National and County governments has not been sufficient to meet the challenges of climate change: our droughts are getting worse, in terms of severity and duration; farmers finding it difficult to serve commercial markets, let alone feed themselves since rains are failing as much-relied upon seasonal rains fail to arrive; and this has a knock-on effect on our internal security – as witnessed by recent skirmishes involving the hunt for pasture – and economy as less abundant wildlife means fewer arrivals, lower spend-per-tourist and our exports are no longer competitively priced.

One way we can begin addressing this spiral to the bottom is by re-thinking that which underpins socio-economic development and provides almost 76 per cent of all Greenhouse Gas Emissions: electricity (generation and consumption).

Kenya has used hydro and geothermal systems to feed the National Grid. However, because of breakdowns in transmission and distribution infrastructure, this power is not reaching consumers and businesses who need it to grow our economy. So we are forced to rely on heavily-polluting diesel generators, both as residential and commercial back-up systems, and to supplement our grid.

This is economically and environmentally unsustainable.

The conversation that needs to happen between all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Energy, County Governments, donors and the private sector is: How does Kenya build the energy system of the future, a bidirectional network that utilizes a blend of centralized and decentralized energy solutions, including minigrids, that are anchored in renewables and one where every Kenyan receives service commensurate with European and American standards of 99.9 per cent uptime. And how to leverage the efficacy of minigrids in this future.

Minigrids are already serving communities across the country with reliable and consistent renewable power. How reliable? On average, they have an uptime of 97 per cent, or 355 days of reliable and consistent green energy. Which current customer would not take that up, with the added benefit of helping improve Kenya’s climate resiliency? Do they work? Ask the leading manufacturers in Kenya and overseas who are investing in their own minigrids.

So to echo the comments by leaders, including the Cabinet Secretaries of Interior and Environment, the time to act is now. The time for empty rhetoric is at an end.

So, the energy stakeholders owe it to Kenyans to start taking this conversation and making concerted efforts towards giving us a green energy future so we can have a hope of saving our climate for our children. If not, we will be stuck in a perennial cycle of more Devolution Conferences discussing ways of addressing climate resilience, while our National Grid continuing being a major contributor to the problem, with its unreliability hampering our economic growth prospects and leaving millions of Kenyans energy poor, food insecure and at the mercy of climate change.

The author: Andrew Juma is Communications Manager at Africa Minigrid Developers Association (AMDA)