Kenya’s electricity imports from Uganda grew by nearly a third in the year to July saddled by the shutdown of geothermal power grid for lines maintenance.
Kenya imported 40.7 million kilowatt hours (kWh) from Uganda compared to 31 million units in the first seven months of last year – marking a 32 per cent growth, according to official data.
This is a departure from last year when East Africa’s largest economy cut by half electricity imports from Uganda following the injection of the additional 280 megawatts (MW) geothermal power to the national grid a year earlier.
Kenya has a direct transmission line connecting with Uganda via Tororo, enabling bulk power trade.
Last June, Kenya cut off a third (200 megawatts) of cheaper geothermal power from the national grid due to lines maintenance, creating room for increased uptake of alternative power sources, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
The energy regulator said construction works at Suswa substation on the Maai Mahiu-Narok highway prompted Kenya to temporarily withdraw the geothermal energy.
The supply shortfall was plugged by increased intake of a mix of imports, hydroelectric power and expensive diesel-fired electricity.
Kenyan homes and businesses consumed a monthly average of 812 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of power in the review period. Geothermal accounts for the largest share of what Kenya consumes at about 47 per cent, followed by hydro-electric power (39 per cent), while thermal is 13 per cent.
Wind power and imports constitute a negligible portion.
The ERC data shows that electricity exports from Kenya to Uganda dropped six per cent to 23.7 million units in the review period, reversing a trend where the exports have been rising.
Market for Kenyan goods
Uganda is the largest market for Kenyan goods and has recently been pushing for increased trade with Nairobi.
At 40.7 million units, Uganda accounted for 96 per cent of Kenya’s electricity imports that totalled 42.4 million units in the year to July.
Besides Uganda, Kenya also imports power from Ethiopia to feed the neighbouring Moyale town, which is not linked to the national electricity grid.
Kenya bought 1.68 million units of power from Ethiopia in the year to July, down from 1.7 million units in a similar period last year.
Uganda has been exporting electricity to Kenya under an agreement established during colonial times but renegotiated at Uganda’s insistence in 1997.
Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda plan to build a 400 kilovolt (kV) electricity line running from Olkaria via Uganda to Birembo in Rwanda while another line is planned to Ethiopia.
Kenya is tapping geothermal resources in the Rift Valley as part of its broader ambition to add 5,000 megawatts to the grid.
Kenya’s power exports to Tanzania stagnated at 1.2 million units in the review period, the ERC data shows.
Dar es Salaam has in recent years been cutting back on its imports from Kenya, official data shows.
Kenya and Tanzania have a pact for small power exchange at their border towns which are not connected to the national grid. There is, however, no transmission line connecting the two countries. Nairobi stopped buying power from Dar es Salaam last year.
“Kenya and Tanzania have cross border electrification arrangement in which Tanzania sells power to Kenya’s parts not connected to the national grid via Lunga Lunga as Kenya sells to Tanzania via Namanga,” the ERC said.
Overall, power exports from Kenya to the neighbouring nations dropped marginally to 25 million units from 26.5 million units.
A restricted transmission capacity has recently curbed supply of increased cheaper hydro power and geothermal to the national grid, denying homes lower bills.
The June switch-off of the 200 megawatts of geothermal energy saw electricity distributor Kenya Power increase its purchase of hydropower by 100 MW and expensive thermal power by another 100 megawatts for onward sale to consumers.