Irony of EA citizens facing dark festive season amid excess power production

Monday December 18 2023

A business stall along Kimathi Street in Nairobi, Kenya use a generator to power their premises on May 9, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By The EastAfrican

Ageing transmission lines, delayed power projects and poorly maintained existing grid have combined to cause disruptions in electricity supply in East Africa, even as all the countries boast excess capacity.

The region is experiencing frequent power outages with Kenya joining Tanzania as the latest partner state to officially announce rationing to steady power distribution.

Uganda, with redundant hydropower capacity, also faces limitations in exporting the excess power to the region largely due to a stalled transmission network, which has been on the cards for years. 

Read: Mixed reactions as Uganda gears up for surplus power

This past week, Rwanda also experienced a power outage, prompting questions about the ability of East Africa to manage its power supply.

Kenya was thrown into darkness from around 7.30pm on December 10 after an over-loaded Kisumu-Muhoroni 132kV line tripped. This is the third time that the country has been hit with a power outage.


Now, the government is considering implementing load shedding, with the cabinet exploring construction of transmission lines to streamline supply and avoid hurting the country’s investment profile.

“I have directed the Ministry of Energy to end power outages in the country,” said President William Ruto after chairing a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

“The frequent power failure is hurting Kenya’s investment profile and the public and we must fix the problem.”

The cabinet resolved that the transmission system should be unbundled so that power failure in one part does not affect the entire country.

Read: Kenya starts power rationing despite excess generation

Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir later said load shedding is a short-term solution that will ensure we do not plunge the country into blackouts. 

Kenya has a shortage of power. As of October, Kenya registered a total installed capacity of 3,300MW.

“Generation is not our problem. We have enough power, but the challenge is more on transmission, where we are using old lines to power the western region,” Mr Chirchir said.

According to an audit report released in October, Kenya Power’s inefficiencies are costing it millions of dollars in missed business opportunities and system losses.

During the financial year that ended June 30, the company purchased a total of 13,290gWh from power producers, out of which only 10,234 gWh was sold to customers, resulting in an efficiency loss of 3,056gWh -- which is way above the approved loss by 3.5 percent.

The utility missed business opportunities owing to its inability to connect 21,231 customers, even though the potential customers had paid a total capital contribution of Ksh966.9 million ($6.3 million), with some being on the waiting list for 11 years.

Tony Wanyama, CEO and founder of Capital Power, says that what is ailing Kenya’s electricity supply is planning.

“Uganda and Ethiopia give us power, but if it trips, to stabilise the line you have to put it up. You just can’t put all the voltage online,” he said.

“Getting power from Olkaria to Western Kenya is a problem,” said Mr Wanyama, an expert in renewable energy.

Read: KenGen eyes Malawi and Tanzania

The situation is not any better in Tanzania, whose total capacity is just over 1,900MW, but has rationing power since September 2023.

According to Gissima Nyamo-Hanga, Tanzania Electric Supply Company Ltd (Tanesco) managing director, natural gas now accounts for about 65 percent of its energy output.

But drought and maintenance issues have caused power shortages in Tanzania. Maintenance issues and climate change-induced water shortages have caused a 400MW shortfall. Tanesco says that the shortages would end by March next year.

The 2,115MW Julius Nyerere hydropower dam started filling with water in December 2022, and is anticipated to be complete by June 2024, and more than double the country's installed capacity.

The government is engaged in several other power projects, including a 150MW solar farm as part of its goal to reach 5,000MW capacity by 2025.