Largest solar plant in EA to be opened in Kenya

Saturday July 20 2013

By STEVE MBOGO Special Correspondent

East Africa's largest solar power plant will be switched on in December in Kericho County, Kenya. The plant will generate 1MW of electricity and is expected to trigger development of large solar generation projects.

Project developers East African Solar Ltd said the plant will be used to power tea processing in the area, offering an alternative source of energy to the Kenya Tea Development Agency for its factories.

“This project will help the client save up to 30 per cent of daily electricity costs and the amount of diesel used,” said Guy Lawrence, the managing director of East African Solar.

The plant will sit on 2.5 acres, and will be connected to the Kenya Power grid. It will be able to sell its surplus power to Kenya Power, at a rate of $0.12 cents per kilowatt hour.

“With a conservative estimate of Kenya Power inflation of five per cent per year, the project will be paid off in about six or seven years. If Kenya Power inflation rates are higher, it will be five years or so,” said Mr Lawrence.

Earlier this year, the region’s largest operating solar plant, a 72 kilowatt plant for Uhuru Flowers based in Laikipia County in Kenya, was commissioned.

Additional planned, medium and large scale solar power projects include a 30 kW project by Red Lands Roses farm in Ruiru, a 4.1MW project by the upcoming Garden City along Thika superhighway, and projects by Strathmore University and shopping malls.

Africa’s biggest operational solar power plant is the 15MW plant in Mauritania. South Africa’s state owned utility company Eskom is seeking to develop a 115MW solar power plant to be operational by end of 2014.

The financing for the Kericho plant is through a local bank. East African Solar has in place a renewable energy finance package that finances projects through debt of between four and five per cent, serviced over a 10 year period. 

Mr Lawrence said Kenya Power needs to encourage more solar projects to stabilise power distribution, bridge the national energy shortfall, and reduce its system losses.

He said the perception in East Africa that solar power plants can only work in areas with longer periods of sunshine, like northern Kenya, is holding back investments.

“Solar power plants are working in Scotland with limited sunshine, therefore there is no problem having solar in Nairobi, Kampala or Arusha with our occasional grey skies,” said Lawrence.