Solar power, the next frontier for Kenya’s renewable energy sector


In a nutshell:

The uptake of solar power in Kenya has been due to several factors such as cheaper technology for solar panels, abundant supply of panels, over-reliance and costliness of fossil fuels and the unstable nature of both hydro and wind power generation therefore solar power is now Kenya's next frontier for renewable energy.      

Actually, Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More Kenyans are now turning to solar power every year rather than make connections to the country’s electric grid. This is due to a number of challenges that one faces when connecting to the national grid the first and foremost being costs of such a setup and also the high cost of buying power from Kenya Power.

The increase in solar power installations has necessitated the need to enact regulations in the sector. In 2012, there was the enactment of the Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations (the “Regulations”) by the Energy Regulatory Commission (“ERC”). These regulations came about as a consumer protection measure to ensure that low quality solar products as well as poorly trained or unqualified technicians do not infiltrate the market. The Regulations require that all persons designing and installing solar PV, all manufacturers, vendors, distributors and contractors of solar PV systems shall be licensed by the ERC. Further, vendors and contractors are to be held liable for any faults in the design and specifications of complete solar PV systems, except in situations where customers purchase individual system components from different vendors, in which case the customers shall indicate in the signed system design declaration form that they did not require the said design or specifications from the vendor or contractors. A list of licensed technicians and contractors is provided on the ERC website.

Solar utilization in the country is mainly for photovoltaic systems which are used for telecommunications, lighting and cathodic protection of pipelines. Solar power is also used in drying and water heating. Furthermore we have seen more and more factories install solar panels on their rooftops to counter against, the cost of buying power from the grid and also mitigating against the instability of the grid since power outages are a regular feature of the Kenyan industrial and residential landscape. We have also seen an appetite for solar products from remote high end - exclusive game lodges. As compared to an expensive diesel powered generator that causes disturbances in Kenya’s game parks, a solar powered plant would be the exact opposite and not affect the lodge’s operations.

The Kenyan Government has played a big role in advancement of the use of solar energy. It has removed import duty and zero-rated Value Added Tax (VAT) for renewable energy equipment and accessories. Further, its aim is to keep on increasing the factors of production. A study done by ERC in 2015, estimated the total megawatts (MW) produced in the solar sector to be over 20 with an expected growth of 15% annually. The Kenya Government aim is to have the sector produce 600 MWp by 2030. To attain this goal it has launched several projects across the country. 

They include: 

  • Samburu Solar Project (40 MWp)
  • Kopere Solar Park in Kisumu (22,7 MWp)
  • Witu Solar Project (40 MWp)
  • Garissa Solar Project (55MWp)
  • Isiolo County Solar Project (40 MWp)
  • Nakuru Solar Project (25MWp)

In addition to the above initiatives the ERC has produced a standardised power purchase agreement (“PPA”) and Feed-in-Tariffs for IPPs below 50 MWp. The new Energy Bill that is currently being debated in Parliament allows for concepts such as net-metering for private consumers while cutting out the need for licensing for plants that are for internal consumption which are lower than 1 MWp.

Another key player in the growth of the solar energy sector in Kenya is the private sector whose activities have seen an estimated 200,000 rural households get connected to the solar home systems. The high level of uptake has been through sale of products that best fit the purchasing power and making products available within mobility range of potential customers. This therefore justifies the existence of over 800 rural outlets that sell solar products.

The sector has also seen the emergence of a number of innovative products. One such is the M-KOPA project to enable more and more Kenyans embrace solar energy. Its basic model is to make solar power products affordable to low income households through a 'pay-per-use' instalment plan. With the input from the government, the private sector and also the innovations being made in the sector, solar energy is indeed the next frontier in Kenya's renewable energy sector.

Lastly on a personal level, I have also worked on a number of projects such as the parking lot in one of Kenya's latest malls which is covered using solar panels and will supply the mall with electricity and a tea factory which is using solar power and phasing out grid power. We also have a client that has a rather innovative solution whereby it will be providing containerised solar plants almost like a generator which can be easily installed and thereafter removed from a factory, lodge or office building.


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Penninah Munyaka

Associate Partner

+254 722 4808 25

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Anna-Lena Becker, LL.M.

+27 21 4182 350

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