Rural Electrification Authority moves to unleash Kenya’s massive untapped solar energy potential

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REA is developing 50MW industrial scale solar power generating plant in Garissa whose farreaching impact is already palpable on the once sleepy village of Raya. Solar Photovoltaics are globally known as the best method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons by the photovoltaic effect.

BY DICKSON OGUTU Rural Electrification Authority (REA) Chief Executive Officer Mr. Peter Mbugua does not shy away from expressing his signature management style: a staunch believer in team decisions who always roots for team work and team responsibility for excellent outcomes. He explains: “I rarely get into decision making which are not mutually agreed. I am one person who encourages as much ideas from everyone as is possible to find. A manager succeeds through other people under his care.” The CEO further explains: “Have a team – for me it does not matter which position you are playing. You could be a goalkeeper or a forward, but when number 9 scores – it’s the team that has scored and they everyone in the team takes credit for the win.” REA is presently undertaking the construction of Africa’s largest industrial capacity solar generation park in Garissa

The Chief Executive Officer Rural Electrification Mr. Peter Mbugua

The Chief Executive Officer Rural Electrification Mr. Peter Mbugua

County whose completion is expected to catapult Kenya’s standing as the leader in solar energy production across the East and Central African region. Located in Garissa’s Raya village, the solar generation park has awakened the little unknown semi-desert rural outpost stuck some 16 kilometers away from Garissa Town in the sweltering sun-heated sandy plains of Imbalambala Constituency. Now however, Raya village is buzzing with a beehive of activity and its fortunes are set to reshape the economic dynamics of Garissa County thanks to the project. About 206272 solar photovoltaic generation panels are already lying in place in an expansive territory stretching 200 acres. The potential for further expansion is huge as there is still more room for future additional PVC solar panels. The Executive Talk team was recently in Raya to experience a firsthand account of the solar power generating park which is a project of Kenya’s Rural Electrification Authority (REA). REA is developing 50MW industrial scale solar power generating plant in Garissa whose far-reaching impact is already palpable on the once sleepy village of Raya. Solar Photovoltaics are globally known as the best method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons by the photovoltaic effect.
In a basic home-use designed solar panel, the solar cells produce direct current electricity from sunlight which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery – and Garissa has plenty of the sun. According to a recently published study, Garissa County experiences over 250 hours of steady sunshine every month for 10 months out of 12 in a calendar year.
Data published in the study reveals that while May is the sunniest month in Garissa County, even February that is regarded as the least sunny in Garissa County still records over 200 hours of steady sun light per day. On average, temperatures in Garissa are always high.

Writer Dickson Ogutu (Centre) is taken round some of the installations in Garisssa by the contractors developing a 50MW solar power plant

Writer Dickson Ogutu (Centre) is taken round some of the installations in
Garisssa by the contractors developing a 50MW solar power plant

The Rural Electrification Authority banks on this perpetual availability of plenty of sunshine to ensure the upcoming Garissa solar power generation park will not only succeed but also become a benchmark for replication in other sunny parts of Kenya. It could go a long way to ease the burden and national reliance on hydrothermal, geothermal and diesel generated power in the country. When it comes to fruition, the Garissa Solar Park generation project will lead the way in the East and Central Africa region as a continental benchmark for green energy Funded by a multi-billion concessional agreement with the Export-Import Bank of china (Exim Bank), the plant with an installed capacity of 54.65 MW will use 132KV voltage to connect to the national power grid. “When this Garissa solar power generation plant is completed, fully functional and operating at capacity, it will immensely reduce the pressure on local power usage in Kenya by injecting an  additional over 50MW to the national grid,” Deputy Site Manager Mr. Mao Honghui tells us as we take a tour around the expansive installation. Mr. Mao works for the firm contracted by REA to deliver the one-of-a kind energy generation project, China Jianxi Corporation. “An additional more  than 35,000 households in Kenya stand to be comfortably added on to the power consumption chain without stretching the limits of the national grid once this solar generation plant is commissioned,” he explains. The use of solar power as a solution to surging energy needs is not new. Across the world countries are racing to tap what many experts have termed as the cleanest and most sustainable form of energy – solar. India’s Kamuthi Solar Power Project generates 648MW of power that largely bolsters it’s rapidly expanding manufacturing industry. With manufacturing key in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Government “Big Four Agenda”, additional Megawatts of power from Garissa couldn’t have come at a better time. China is among the world‘s leading top five solar energy generators with the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park and Cixi in Eastern Zhejiang province constituting 300 hectares of solar panels installed above a fish farm. The Cixi solar power plant in China alone generates 220-gigawatt hours of electricity a year – enough power for an estimated 100,000 households. India on the other hand currently produces 1,000 MW of power at the Kurnool Ultra Solar Park, once the world’s largest such park after it outpaced both the 648 MW solar park in Tamil Nadu and the 550 MW Topaz Solar Park in California USA. China leads the world in built solar electricity generation with the 1000 MW Datong Solar Power Top Runner Base and the 1547 MW Tengger Desert Solar Park alone known in China as the “Great Wall of Solar” covering approximately 1,200 Km of land. Spain, Germany, Portugal and the USA are among countries in the world that have made huge investment in solar energy generation in the last two decades.

In Kenya, the Rural Electrification Authority and the contractor building the Garissa Solar Park have engaged high level expertise in the promise to deliver East Africa’s first 54.65 MW of solar- generated power to the national grid. The life changing impact of the project is already being felt way ahead of its commissioning originally slated for September 2018.
That the community in Garissa is witnessing unprecedented development is not a secret. Previously sandy, weather-beaten roads are being carpeted with murram and with the level of priority the state is according the power generation project, it will only be a matter of time before tarmac is extended to Raya Village. The engineering, procurement and construction contractor, China Jiangxi, has drilled two giant boreholes in the village bubbling with clean, safe water for human use.
A huge number of technical and casual staff can be seen deployed on the site in Raya and working in different parts of the upcoming plant. That the state is keen on success of the project is evident in the massive security deployment manning the facility. Sprawling across 85 hectares (about 210 acres), the Garissa Solar Power Plant will also host its own 132 KV sub-station with a main transformer. “I believe the Garissa Solar generation park project will be successful because we are using only the best available world standard implements and equipment to set up from mthe ground and most of these implements are factory custom-made just for this project,” says Mr. Mao.

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