OKUDO: Region’s energy sector is just ripe for women, youth

Wednesday June 3 2020

Ogutu Okudo.

Ogutu Okudo is the Kenya country manager for SpringRock Group, an integrated upstream oilfield management services organisation. PHOTO | COURTESY 

JAMES KAHONGEH
By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Kenya country manager for SpringRock Group, Ogutu Okudo, spoke to James Kahongeh on how the region can better tap its renewable energy sources and how to get more young people and women into the sector.

Women only make up 19 per cent in the energy sphere. In what practical ways can their involvement be enhanced to close the gap?

There’s one woman for every five men in engineering classes in majority of universities in East Africa. But addressing the gender disparity in the energy sphere is more than just looking at numbers in the workplace. We must approach it from a systematic social understanding.

One way to address this is to demystify STEM courses early. This will increase the number of girls who later pursue STEM in their undergraduate studies and join these careers. Women must also mentor other women at the workplace and not play small. They must compete for more involving duties, seek promotions and demand higher pay. Men must also be equally involved in this endeavour.

 

Why is it necessary to have more women and youth in the energy space?

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East Africa is currently going through an exciting period of industrial and technological revolution. The region is witnessing massive infrastructural development with pipelines, superhighways, ports, and railways being built. This has created a huge demand for specialised technical skills. Having the right skills will allow women and youth to contribute and benefit from this transformational change in the region.

So far, Women in Energy and Extractives (WEX) has offered training to informal sector entrepreneurs and empowered nearly 100,000 girls in Kenyan schools through our STEM outreach campaign.

 

East Africa enjoys plenty of sunshine and wind. What keeps the region from fully exploiting its massive clean energy potential?

For government institutions to make viable business case studies to exploit these resources, findings from research are integral. In East Africa, however, governments spend less than one per cent of their annual budgets on research and development. Energy dockets are politicised. Other challenges include barriers in technical, technological, economic capacity and institutional weaknesses.

 

What then do governments need to do to tap into renewable energy sources?

Support policies. We need a legislative environment that promotes tapping into the vast natural energy sources in rural areas across the region and connect them to the grid. We need to create entry incentives and to break barriers to allow renewable energy technologies to enter the market.

 

East Africa relies heavily on oil imports to power its industries. What measures can governments take to be self-sufficient?

The current East African energy boom where countries are developing their oil and gas resources will help to create the option for domestic consumption. Additionally, investments in renewable energy sources is becoming a more affordable option that allows regional governments to diversify their energy mix and to power industries with cleaner energy sources.

 

Is the cost of power in the region competitive enough to attract foreign investment?

We’re hardly competitive. Multi-national corporations prefer Ethiopia to East African countries, for instance, partly because of the cost of power here. In Ethiopia, the cost of power per kWh is $0.03. The same goes for $0.1 in Uganda and at $0.15 in Kenya. This ultimately pushes away potential investors.

It is imperative to continue to invest in alternative sources of power like large-scale renewable energy projects to boost supply to the national grid. Renewable energy is cheaper to generate and results in a significant reduction in the cost of power. The phasing out and shutting down of thermal power plants, which are powered by diesel engines, is welcome as they are more expensive in the long run.

 

Why has the cost of power remained high in a region that’s investing heavily in energy production?

The factors of production that go into generation play a big role in determining the cost of power. Taxes and levies on petroleum products, for instance, impact the cost of power generation directly. It’s, therefore, important to have progressive and non-extortionist tax policies. Billing has been a major cause of customer dissatisfaction. Kenyan consumers are charged for transmission, distribution and operational losses, which constitute approximately 18 per cent of power generated annually. This has to be relooked.

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BIO

Current position: Country manager, SpringRock Group.

Gender consultant at Kenya’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mining.

Education: BA (International Relations), United States International University.

MSc (Oil and gas), University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Founded Women in Energy and Extractives (WEX) Africa in 2012, a social enterprise that seeks to bridge the gender gap in the oil, gas, mining and alternative energy sectors.

Recognition: Forbes’ Top 30 under 30 people in Africa for promoting gender inclusivity in energy.

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