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Kenya’s massive solar power plant nears completion

In an interview, Rural Electrification Authority Chairman Simon Gicharu says the project is designed to increase energy capacity and reduce the load on the national power grid and ensure sustainable development

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Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter (centre) explains a point when he visited the Solar Power project in Garissa last week.

Construction of Kenya’s first large scale solar power project at a cost of Ksh13.5 billion is nearing completion, promising to usher in a new era of electricity generation. China Jiangxi International Kenya Ltd engineers are working round the clock to finish and fire up the solar park in northern Kenya before the end of the year.

The colossal solar firm is scheduled to be switched on in September this year and will be the largest of its kind in the East and Central Africa region. The renewable energy project is being developed by the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) with funding from Exim Bank of China.

In an interview, REA Chairman Dr Simon Gicharu contends that the project is designed to increase energy capacity and reduce the load on the country’s constrained national power grid and contribute towards sustainable development. Dr Gicharu said the concentrated solar power plant, which is being built in the sun-drenched Raya village near Garissa town, is 75% complete.

“The project will be fully operational by September this year which is our own self-imposed deadline,” he said. It is expected to stabilize power supply in Garissa and beyond.

He said REA has set up more than 300,000 photovoltaic (PV) solar system sitting in neat rows, which have been spread over 85 hectares piece of land where endless burning hot sun is just waiting to be harnessed. He said most solar power plants, which use photovoltaic technology, capture energy through the solar panels, converting the sun’s light straight to electricity and then routing it onto the grid for use.

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Dr Gicharu said once operational the project will supply an additional 55 megawatt of cheaper power into the national electricity grid boosting Kenya’s stride towards clean energy. He said the facility is set up in Garissa because it features plenty of sunshine throughout the year and vast expanses of land that are otherwise inhospitable.

“We are harnessing this bounty of sunbeams into useful electricity,” said Dr Gicharu. “Solar power is the future, it is powering development in massive scale in many parts of the world and Kenya will not be an exception.”

Dr Gicharu expressed hope that the new and enormous solar plant will meet Kenya’s energy demands, which he said is expected to rise in the coming decades. The REA chairman says the plant is expected to light up more than 625,000 homes besides reducing carbon emissions by 64,190 tonnes a year.

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He said the solar power project would help the country create employment opportunities offering at least 1,000 jobs. Dr Gicharu said upon completion the solar plant would boost the manufacturing sector, one of the four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s economic revival strategy. “Clean energy will drive sustainable economic growth and lift the masses out of poverty,” he observed.

The solar power project will help create more than 1,000 employment opportunities.

Energy Cabinet Sectary (CS) Charles Keter, while on a tour of the facility last week, said the September target will be met. The minister led senior government officials and members of the press on a tour of the site where erected solar panels are already visible from miles away.

Keter observed that the government is investing more in renewable energy to bring the cost of power down. The CS says 25 solar mini-grids to power counties with plenty of sunshine and in the off-grid areas such as Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit and Turkana are in the offing.

He said the government is determined to help sunshine-rich counties to harness solar energy at an affordable cost. “With the utility power plants providing people with solar electricity, the country is well on its way to becoming a leader of green energy,” he said.

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