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Friday, 13 July 2012

Construction of a 1,000Km power line between Ethiopia and Kenya to commence soon.

The World Bank has approved funding for a 1,000km high voltage transmission power line between Ethiopia and Kenya. According to Reuters the power line is part of a bigger US$1.3 billion funding programme that will create a power pool linking countries within East Africa and transmit 300MW of power from Ethiopia to Kenya.

Ethiopia has surplus power due to its abundance of hydroelectric generation capacity. Though according to studies, 80% of its population remains without domestic electricity.

Kenya is set to gain from a more sustainable electricity source, considering its 1,300MW capacity fluctuates due to the effects of climate change as its rivers dry during recurrent droughts. Kenya’s hydro power generation is slightly above 50% at maximum capacity and declines significantly during droughts necessitating the uptake of power from thermal plants that use diesel and fuel oil. Which are both expensive and environmentally unfriendly.

Other than transmitting power, the transmission line is to form part of the East Africa Power Pool connecting the countries of Kenya , Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Rwanda. This will increase power trading between these countries enabling countries with surplus to sell to those in deficit, reducing occurrences of black outs and power shading.

The power line is also set to pass through the Marsabit region of northern Kenya, which has one of the highest wind speeds in the region. This will enable the three planned wind power projects in that area to commence. As the main hindrance to these projects taking off was a lack of access to the national grid. This should further boost Kenya’s renewable energy generating capacity in the medium term.

The people of northern and north eastern Kenya, historically marginalized, and who mostly do not have access to domestic electricity are likely to be connected to the grid as the electricity will most likely be supplied to them first as a priority.

However, my thoughts are that though the Kenyan grid will become more stable with more consistency in electricity supply, the cost of power isn’t likely to go down in the medium term. This is because these projects and others associated to it will have to be financed by borrowed international funds which have to be repaid through a surcharge on power bills, before cheap power can be available to Kenyans. Therefore, the wait for cheaper electricity should take a bit longer.

As for Ethiopia, this project will mean stronger political and economic ties to its southern friendly neighbor, Kenya, as it continues to posture with its hostile neighbors to the north and north east.