Biogas offers cheaper energy solution

Saturday August 18 2012

Cow dung feed stock flows into a digester at a Farmer’s Choice biogas plant. Photo/Steve Mbogo

Biogas is becoming a prominent feature of Kenya’s domestic and industrial energy scene.

From the informal settlements of Katwekera Village in Kibera, Nairobi, to the lush green lawns of Farmer’s Choice meat processing plant at Kamiti Estate in Nairobi, biogas flames are replacing kerosene, furnace oil and firewood.

At Kilifi Plantations on the North Coast, a large scale sisal and dairy farm, the milk processing and packaging plant is run on biogas.

Thousands of households in Central Province have abandoned the traditionally preferred wood fuel in favour of biogas.

Stanley Mbugua, operations director at Choice Meats, a subsidiary of Farmer’s Choice, said since the company started using biogas a few months ago, as a supplement to furnace oil to run its boilers for three hours a day, the company has saved $5,000 per month. This will save the company $60,000 per year on its furnace oil bill.

“The biogas plant is only operating at 33.3 per cent of its capacity because we cannot raise enough waste at the moment. When we do, we shall be able to make even bigger savings on our fuel expenses,” he said.


The savings made by a manufacturing company like Choice Meats, which exports various types of meats across the world through its parent company Farmer’s Choice, are huge because of the high price of oil in the global market and the rising cost of electricity in Kenya.

Joseph Mwangi, who lives in Nyahururu Town in Central Province, uses a three-burner cooker powered by biogas. For the past two years, Mwangi’s family has cut back on firewood used at home by more than 90 per cent.

“We only use firewood when we want to warm ourselves during cold nights,” he said. “The change is noticeable. The cooking is smokeless while the costs are very low,” said Mr Mwangi.

At the Meru GK Prison in Meru County, human waste from an estimated 1,200 inmates and 300 staff members is now being used to generate enough biogas to power the prison’s kitchen and those of staff members.

Under Kenya’s Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme, developed last year, numerous proposals have been received from interested parties in the private sector who want to generate electricity from biogas and feed it to the national grid and have the capacity to generate 40MW or three per cent of the total approved proposals under the feed-in-tariffs policy.

So far, there is no biogas plant that feeds into Kenya’s national grid.

Kenya offers a fixed feed-in-tariff not exceeding US cents seven per kilowatt-hour of biogas generated electricity supplied in bulk to the grid operator. This tariff applies for 15 years from the day of commissioning of the biogas plant.

Under the same investment plan, the European Commission has committed to help Kenya set up small biogas plants in at least 330 rural households in five provinces.

Today, thousands of rural households in Kenya plan to or have already installed biogas plants due to the availability of livestock and kitchen waste. Many secondary schools and colleges have also set up biogas plants.

Maina Githaiga, operations director of Four For One Ltd, the company that developed the biogas plant for Farmers Choice, says biogas offers more opportunities yet to be taken up.

Four For One Ltd has developed 500 biogas plants in Kenya, mainly in schools and rural households. A biogas plant, no matter the size, can operate for 60 years with minimal maintenance costs.

Biogas is one of the cheapest energy sources to generate, costing an estimated US cents eight per kilowatt hour compared with wind at 8.8 cents, geothermal at 7.0 cents, small hydro at 12 cents, big hydro at 14 cents and solar at 35 cents according to data provided by Kenya’s Ministry of Energy.