Friday, 13 June 2014

Solar Power? Kenya’s energy future at a crossroads

As the UNFCCC Bonn Climate Change Conference discussions come to a close, an IDS-led project funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) examines the recent lessons they have learnt on how ‘climate compatible development’ initiatives are unfolding in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. Using a political economy approach, the case studies focus on:
  • Contexts in which initiatives occur
  • Potential competition or conflict between different actors and their goals, and 
  • The consequences in terms of who wins and who loses from different aspects of climate compatible development.
This, the second in a series of  three blogs, originally posted on the Global Studies Blog SussexGlobal is by Peter Newell, Professor at the University of Sussex. Peter is the lead research fellow for the Kenya case study which explores the political economy analysis of the national energy policy that aims to support a transition to a low carbon economy, delivering poverty reduction and climate resilience at the same time.

The first blog came from Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Research Fellow Thomas Tanner.

Kenya faces an energy dilemma. It is hardly alone in this but unlike many developing countries it has developed a National Climate Change Action Plan and the need to address climate mitigation and adaptation alongside poverty features strongly in its Vision 2030 plan for the country. Kenya is also home to a highly successful solar home system market and a large part of its energy mix comes from renewable resources including geothermal and hydropower. Yet it has also recently discovered oil and there is growing interest in exploiting the countries coal reserves and though the potential for a clean energy revolution is high, the policy and regulatory framework to support it is not yet in place.

A recent workshop held in Nairobi to showcase recent Sussex research on these issues highlighted some of these challenges and suggested ways forward.

  1. Donor support is critical. Despite being feted as a purely market-led success, detailed tracking of the history of innovation and deployment of solar home systems suggests public money was vital to building markets, networks and reducing risk. 
  2. There is no substituting for a proactive and forward looking entrepreneurial state, one which sets the direction of change, supports Research & Development (R&D) and creates a positive enabling environment for the uptake of renewable energy through tax, regulation and industrial policy. 
  3. Businesses that stand to benefit from clean energy need a greater voice in the debate. Renewable associations exist and are active in these debates. But assembling a broader ‘coalition of the willing and the winning’ from a low carbon economy is vital to showing private sector support for clean energy future in Kenya. 
  4. Given the potential benefits of renewables for poorer groups that often lack access to the grid there is real scope to build alliances at country level whom the Kenya 2010 constitution grants increasing powers. There is a power struggle unfolding over the authority that central as opposed to county level government exercises over key areas of policy such as energy. But it looks like being a possible site for change where counties have been enthusiastic and renewables and if they are able to generate real benefits in terms of jobs and revenue, supported by a feed-in-tariff scheme, could provide tangible wins for poorer groups.   
This is then both a worrying and exciting time for Kenya. Affected by drought and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Kenya has a lot to lose from climate change. But proactive responses to the issue that can help to improve access to energy and do so in a low carbon way suggest the genuine potential of climate compatible development.

Photo credits: Peter Newell | University of Sussex
More information on the project, contact Lars Otto Naess