Kenya: Energy Consumption in Buildings Put On Check

Owners and occupiers of commercial buildings, industrial facilities and institutions will be required by law to install approved energy efficiency measures, the energy regulator has said. The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has said it will introduce regulations to cut down on energy consumption, wastage and losses in commercial buildings, institutions and industries which are major consumers.

Read more

Nairobi: sun is shining….

How apt! The morning is filled with glorious sunlight and the skies are azure blue. It’s a perfect day for reflecting, researching, discussing and deciding on what to do with the abundant rays.

They say the sun, it shines for all - Bob Marley

They say the sun, it shines for all - Bob Marley

Today will be spent at a revolutionary event: the 1% Event at Nairobi’s University’s Taifa Hall. The purpose of the meet is that people of different backgrounds meet and set an agenda for the day, and then explore ways of cooperating with one another for purposes of development, business, socialization, etc.. Web 2.0 technology (Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs) provides the tools by which the participants achieve their goals.

Personally, I hope to find people with ideas and suggestions for Blessedsun. Who knows, it could be the day that I meet the Kenyan partner(s)!. My mind is open, all receptors receiving. Anything could happen!!

A report of the events through my eyes will grace this blog shortly….

Solar Should Not Pollute!

A disconcerting article in the Washington Post, Sunday, March 9, 2008, raises the alarm about polysilicon manufacturers cutting corners and polluting the environment that their product is designed to save.

The article visits a poor farming village that rejoiced upon hearing that a factory would be built in their neighbourhood, enabling them to finally catch up with the economic boom; the prospect of incomes rising from $200 a year to $200 a month must have been very tantalizing.

Alas, once the factory was up and running, it appears that the haste to produce exceeded the capacity or will to deal with a nasty by-product – silicon tetrachloride. According to the report, this by-product is very toxic and has led to crop failure and rising health complaints. Some concerned villagers have raised the issue with the local environmental authorities but claim to have been ignored.

I hope that this incident is an isolated one, and that the Chinese government will take quick action  to ensure that manufacturers handle their waste responsibly. In developed nations, the processes are closely monitored, and producers have to recycle or scrub the waste, even though the result is that their price per ton of pure silicon is unable to compete with the Chinese prices.

China has been at the forefront of an enviable green revolution in the developing world.  By sheer determination and hard work, the country has now attained a supreme position in the global PV market. Former competitors now place orders from China and are proud to be associated with Chines partners.

China can maintain the ambitious economic trajectory while also posing as a leader in responsible manufacturing. The green revolution cannot afford to be the target of environmental  sceptics who, though they cannot tell us where we will be when the oil runs out, never ignore a chance to shoot down any new alternatives.

New: OMO – flavoured fish!

Imagine an African country that accounts for more that 40% of a multinational oil corporation’s profits, but has unending lines at the gas pump.

Imagine a multinational (SHELL) so nestled in the relationship with the leaders of that country, that they can send a brutal force to massacre an upstart village refusing to cede oil-rich land*. That’s Nigeria for you!

If you have not had the chance to watch a screening of  “The Age of Stupid”, go and see the film. Among others, you will see the story of  Layefa Malemi, a Niger Delta girl with aspirations of becoming a good doctor and live an American-style life, but must first catch fish and sell illicit diesel to get her fees.

The little fish she is able to catch is so polluted with oil, that she scrubs it with  OMO before selling or cooking it!

*”Days later, Shell met the director general of the state security services to “reiterate our request for support from the army and police”. In a confidential note Shell suggested: “We will have to encourage follow-through into real action preferably on an industry rather than just Shell basis”. The Nigerian regime responded by sending in the Internal Security Task Force, a military unit led by Colonel Paul Okuntimo, a brutal soldier, widely condemned by human rights groups, whose men allegedly raped pregnant women and girls and who tortured at will. Okuntimo boasted of knowing more than 200 ways to kill a person.”

Source:  Secret papers ‘show how Shell targeted Nigeria oil protests’

SHELL has an efficient PR machinery to counter the negative effects of her 50 years in Nigeria, but needs to do much more than give token compensation to plaintiffs representing the inhabitants of lands from which SHELL gets her profits (Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni people, USD 15 million fund). The oil spills must be cleaned up, regardless of how they came about, so that the people do not have to eat fish scrubbed with commercial detergents.


More importantly, the continued flaring of gas that accompanies oil drilling needs to be stopped. It has been connected to rising cases of skin diseases, respiratory illnesses and cancer.

Ironically, if  SHELL were to refine and bottle the gas that is wasted in this way and offer it to the Nigerian people, the PR, legal wrangles and financial settlements would become unnecessary!

Ahem….Kenya Goes Nuclear

The daily Nation has breaking news:

France to help Kenya on nuclear plan

It is a great ambition for a country that has yet to develop a decent national electricity grid. But Kenya’s PM and former Minister of Energy is an ambitious man. It is not the first time that the subject has been broached, and it emerges that Kenya has been courting western partners for more than a year:

Is Kenya Ready To Go Nuclear?

1 billion USD translates into 73-75 billion Kenya shillings, and it is not unusual in Kenya that the initial costs of a project are drastically revised upwards after inception. In this case, Kenya’s own lack of knowledge on the subject would make such a project a blank cheque for the experts.

Common people like me have a hard time visualising a landscape dotted with high-security nuclear facilites, white plumes of steam rising out of cooling towers, and gleaming pylons joined by wires buzzing with power. I have not even set eyes on such a facility here in Europe!

Why should France pick Kenya, of all other possible candidates, to be the recipient of this “assistance”?

Some digging reveals that this is part of a French-Britain (Brown- Sarkozy) pact to bring nuclear energy to the world.

The Guardian, 22-3.2008: Britain and France to take nuclear power to the world

It surely cannot be because we have exhausted all our options. I’m certain that it is not because our grid is complete and we have already connected every citizen but our generating capacity is unable to feed the needs of our population.

Nuclear power is not a joke. Those who experienced Chernobyl know that the risks of plant failure are very high. In fact, such is the scare that Chernobyl caused, that some countries in Western Europe are busy decommissioning nuclear power plants, except…..France.

Frequently, we see harrowing pictures of the charred remains of Kenyans who swarm around an overturned petrol tanker, collecting the volatile stuff, until somone lights a cigarette or shorts the battery,  incinerating all in the vicinity in a exploding fireball. Would a people so poorly informed about the dangers of petroleum understand the danger inherent in barrels of radiocative waste?

I hope that France is not serious about setting up anything nuclear in Kenya, because they have not solved their own nuclear riddles adequately to be exporting their technology to a third-world country.

According to Greenpeace, there are tons of nuclear waste in France waiting to cause a disaster inside France, either through human error or as a result of sabotage by terrorists. Greenpeace goes on to question France’s claims of success in the nuclear field.

French Nuclear Failure

Greenpeace’s stance is not the only one. There are also people in the opposite camp who fully support the French nuclear programme and cite very  favourable figures when compared to other sources.

Jerome Kos, Nuclear energy in France – a Sunday Special

One ommission in the pro-nuclear camp is the biggest question of nuclear energy: what do we do with the waste?

Solutions mentioned in pro-nuclear publications, including Jerome’s blog, are never definitive. They revolve around ‘parking’ or ‘hiding’ the waste until a day in the future when it can be processed. This is Greenpeace’s major gripe and it also negates whatever positive CO2 benefits nuclear energy boasts.

What if the French, under the guise of helping Kenya, exported their waste into our country?

Any well-informed person does not have to wrack their memory to recall the Mururoa Atoll. Despite opposition from her allies and inhabitants of the Polynesian Islands, the French went ahead and detonated nuclear devices repeatedly in the area.

Before we all get excited by our PM’s latest foreign conquest and the promises he brought with him, we should ask ourselves whether the nuclear option is viable in Kenya, and whether we have examined all other vailable options.

Are we really ready for the nuclear option and could we live with the scrutiny and distrust surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme? Could Kenya be able to provide the security and safeguards that are necessary in these days of terrorist threats and rogue nations seeking illicit supplies of weapons-grade nuclear material.

I hope that nobody takes our PM seriously in his flirt with plutonium, and he ought to be solving our problems using means that are easily within reach, such as the abundant sunshine!

The Sun: Unrelenting Enemy, or Eternal Friend

Dry weather in Kenya has not only affected the energy sector, but has also wrought untold misery on those whose livelihoods depend on good rains and moderate sunshine:

Nomadic pastoralists abhor the destruction of livestock.

In traditional society, a man’s wealth and stature was measured by the size of his herd. Today, cattle still occupy an important position in social transactions. The value of a wife equals the number of cattle turned over to the in-laws for her hand in marriage. Thus, cattle are the glue that holds families and clans together. To the owners, the surrender of their herds must have felt like a spear right through the rib-cage!

It is inevitable that questions arise at the sight of  the last-minute buy-off of so many beasts, most of which were too weak to live and too unhealthy to be slaughtered..

Firstly, the government was aware that the climate had not been kind to the farmer or the herdsman. In June, there were herds of cattle grazing on the poor pickings next to busy highways, meaning that the usual grazing grounds were depleted.

Roaring business selling water in Nairobi.

Roaring business selling water in Nairobi.

Why was there nothing done then to relieve the cattle-holders? Then, the animals still had some meat on their bones and could have fetched a better price.

Secondly, the nomadic-pastoralist lifestyle and the eternal battles with the elements has been discussed in text-books and World Bank studies as long as I can recall. In most cases, the conclusion is that the free range lands for nomadic activities are virtually non-existent.

Collective ownership of land has gradually given way to titled, individual ownership.

Among the pastoralist communities, those who caught on to the benefits of private ownership now boast hundreds of hectares of fenced-off ranches. Those left landless have to trespass and engage in running battles with custodians of national parks, reserved for the tourist and the wild beasts.

Illgal Grazing In Nairobi National Park

"Illegal" Grazing In Nairobi National Park

It is clearly no longer realistic to have communities that depend wholly on herds of cattle if they do not have access to vast common land.

Now, about the sun. Left to its devices in 2008-2009, it has been a merciless enemy. It dries up the few common watering holes there are for the nomads, turns the savannah brown and burns it into a barren, black carpet. A superstitious being could easily believe that they have been cursed by their ancestors, their lands turned into a hell where their beasts perish in the dust…..

Need this be so, these cycles of bountiful lushness and stretches of misery in dust-bowls?

The same sun, if we have foresight and a willingness to invest and pre-empt disaster, could have saved those beasts and also given the herdsmen a more secure way of life. How?

In the Australian outback, which is just as harsh as the savannah, the use of photovoltaic panels to run water pumps is quite common. Solarpump-New South WalesThe water that they suck out of the earth (wells, rivers and lakes) is used to water livestock or to irrigate crops. With a raised water storage facility present to hold the water and deliver it by gravity to the troughs crops, no expensive storage batteries are needed.

The initial expenditure for such a system may seem daunting, but the benefits are evident and enduring.

If the Kenyan government is keen to avoid a repeat of the Kenya Meat Commission’s twelfth-hour “rescue” of dying beasts, it must help the Maasai, Samburu, Rendille, Boran and other pastoralist communities secure water supplies during drier periods. There is water in the ground, and the scrubland can be permanently green, if there is a will.

For their part, the nomadic-pastoralists may have to adjust to the economic realities of today’s Kenya. The community can remain cohesive if it collectively develops and manages a common pump-fed watering and irrigation facility. United by the blessed sun!

There are not many free range lands, and the movement of large herds over hundreds of kilometres is no longer viable. Perhaps it is time too to look at the quality of the herd instead of the quantity,…. for a proud father to accept one fat bull and 3 fertile cows for his daughter, instead of twenty scrawny specimens destined for the KMC graveyard.

Wazzup Kareem?

Wazzup Kareem?

Desertec Pt.2: What About Africa Below The Desert?

And what of Africa below the Desert?

OKSolar - world_solar_radiation

The FAQ on Desertec’s site is clear about the geographical scope of the project: Europe, Middle East and North Africa.

Your approach includes only North Africa. What about the rest of Africa and other countries?

  • For a cooperation and integration into the European grid, MENA is – because of its proximity to Europe – obviously more suitable, than Central or South Africa
  • Renewables in general and CSP in particular, are also suitable for the rest of Africa and it will profit by the cost reductions developed in the north.
  • Central Africa has large hydropower resources considered by the North African countries (eg. Egypt) as a strategic reserve for its electricity supply. If North Africa, however, uses its own solar resources, Central Africa remains its most important resource.
  • We also campaign there and in China, Australia, America and India for a realisation of DESERTEC “Clean Power from Deserts,” but our resources are limited.
  • That is why we are founding regional DESERTEC Networks, which can benefit from our know-how and the studies.

So, Desertec is a commercial deal between the Western European energy giants, who want to capitalize on CSP technology, and the leaders of MENA countries, who have vast desert lands in close proximity to the European power grids.

It would be naive for the excluded African countries to expect Desertec to consider countries too far away to be of use for their primary goal of adding MENA desert energy to their existing stocks.

Fortunately, most of the continent enjoys solar radiation levels suited to CSP technology. The energy potential remains the same without Desertec. However, if we want to explore CSP technology, we have to court other CSP partners willing to make their profit through the sale of know-how, or co-ownership of African energy companies.

Do such partners exist? Yes, the  Medium and Small Scale Concentrated Solar Thermal Power Platform is one example.

The idea of Africa South of the Sahara as an unprofitable area of operation – as implied by Desertec – is a fallacy. One need only look at the enormous profits and growth mobile telecommunication companies have experienced in the region. Their success lies in having jumped in where state-operated landline systems had failed, leaving a poulace willing to pay any price to communicate. The same situation prevails now in the field of electrical power.

What are our options?

The most important thing to do is not to be drawn into technology wars (PV-technology vs. CSP). We are simply not equipped to make an imprint there. The African strategy should hinge on two points:

1. Catch up with PV-technology and equip the common man so that we can reap the benefits of advances made in Europe, the USA and Asia;

2. Work with positively inclined CSP developers and entrepreneurs who are amenable to investing in Africa South of The Sahara. Emphasis should be to decentralize and reduce dependence on long, vulnerable power transportation lines as envisioned by Desertec. The reason why we should apply the technology at small to medium scale should be obvious: we do not have the massive capital or intra-national grid cohesion that is needed for that setup.

Challenge number one is to get our policy-makers to take solar more seriously than they have done to date.

Desertec represents the second phase a solar revolution that Africa has practically missed out on. In the past decade, in what we could term Phase 1, the USA, Europe and parts of Asia have adopted PV based solar energy so well that it is no longer a curious conservationists’ concept. In three years or so, grid-parity will be achieved, a point at which PV power pricing equals or falls under grid-power.

One thing is clear. If we allow Desertec to take off without us, we will see Africa split in two by energy and progress, and people driven yet farther towards the margins of the global economy because they failed to use their solar resource transform their energy supplies.

For further reading a discussion on the technology and possibilities of CSP, I recommend the Desertec-Africa site.