Exploring the energy market in Kenya

Aubrey Keller | 14 Mar 2017 | Comments

Atkins’ acquisition of Howard Humphreys, a multidisciplinary engineering consultancy based in Kenya and Tanzania, has the potential to open up access to any number of infrastructure projects across East Africa. We hope energy projects will play a key role, and to help facilitate that I recently moved from the UK to live in Nairobi.

Howard Humphreys has an excellent reputation across the broader East Africa region. In all my dealings with those in the engineering industry locally, individuals always speak very highly of Howard Humphreys and their previous infrastructure projects. Now, combining Howard Humphreys traditional expertise with the skills and abilities Atkins’ global Energy business has in nuclear, conventional power, renewables, and oil and gas, we hope to grow our engineering and design capabilities in the energy market in East Africa and beyond. We think there are plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Kenya’s installed generation capacity is roughly 2.5 GW (40% hydro, 30% other renewables, 30% conventional) however the electrification rate is only 25% - 40%, depending on which statistics you look at. The per capita demand for electricity is below average, which can be attributed to the low electrification rate and few, large industrial consumers, among other reasons.

Significant investment and efforts have already been committed to upgrade and expand transmission and distribution infrastructure, with more planned. Aside from increasing electrification rates, these activities also seek to increase overall grid reliability and robustness to support increased integration of intermittent renewable generation. Increasing electrification rates in rural areas (in some regions via solar minigrids) is also key to arresting the current, unsustainable and unsafe use of biomass (wood) for heating and cooking.

Although Kenya has excellent solar and wind resources, utility scale generation has been minimal to date. Several large solar PV projects are under development however, due to insufficient electricity demand during daylight hours and the intermittency issues these projects create, progress on these projects has been slow. Several utility scale wind projects are also underway, yet given the recent price reductions in the cost of solar PV generation, it remains to be seen whether future wind projects will be financially competitive.

Kenya is also developing and exploiting the significant geothermal resource available in The Great Rift Valley, a geological formation running the length of the country. With already 600MW of installed capacity, geothermal generation is attractive to both the Kenyan government and International Finance Institutions as it is respectively, dispatchable baseload and a low-carbon, renewable technology. It’s also made a major difference to the cost of power to the consumer; according to Kenya Power it has almost halved between March 2013 and June 2016.

In the remote north-west of Kenya at Lokichar in Turkana County, Tullow Oil is currently working to develop the first oil reserves in the country and an estimated 750 MMBO are thought to be recoverable. Additionally, the first coal mines in the country are being developed by Chinese state-owned enterprises southeast of Nairobi in order to supply planned, future coal power plants.

Finally, the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) was recently founded to progress Kenya’s nuclear power ambitions. KNEB aims to build and commission a 1,000MW power station in Kenya by 2027. We were also recently invited to take part in the Kenya Nuclear Energy Week where we talked about a variety of issues pertinent to developing new nuclear including maximising efficiency throughout the nuclear lifecycle, stakeholder involvement in nuclear industry, and reflections on nuclear power generation approaches and safety culture.

Overall, it is clear that the energy sector in Kenya is currently experiencing massive development, with significant effort and finance being invested in a diversified set of generation technologies. Across East Africa the energy sectors of other countries such as Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda are also undergoing similar levels of growth and development. Nonetheless, in a market of seemingly abundant opportunities it is important for us to strategically target those projects we deem most viable which crucially, allow us to best take advantage of Howard Humphrey’s reputation and expertise.