We need informed public debate on solar industry

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020 00:00 |
Solar panel. Photo/Courtesy

Norman Mudibo  

The sun radiates more energy in a second than mankind has used since beginning of time.

We live in a part of the world endowed with significant amounts of renewable energy resources – including solar energy.

Worldwide,  there is a shift towards harnessing the sun for its energy to provide secure, less polluting, and friendlier electricity.

It has huge benefits to us, our habitats, and our economy. We are moving away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy alternatives with different countries at various stages of adoption.

Germany is the world’s market leader in solar power installations with 99 per cent connected to the grid.

Consumers have electricity independence: does not pollute mother nature and do not fall prey to unpredictable increases in utility prices.

Households with solar systems function as small power plants that helps ensure grid stability.

A thriving solar power industry means more jobs for skilled workers and a growing economy. It is an economic engine.

Experts aver that by 2050, solar power will become the greatest source of electricity worldwide.

To convert solar energy to electricity, two technologies are used by solar power plants: photovoltaic (PV) systems which use solar panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity, and the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) that indirectly uses solar thermal energy to produce electricity.

Kenya has not been left behind in the solar energy revolution. The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) says solar power added to the national grid spiked by over 208 per cent in a decade - to 250 Megawatts from a paltry 12 MW.

This will grow to 500MW in the next five years. To have a fair, secure and value for money system is critical.

It is what EPRA is seeking to have– that we grow this sector with the potential to spur the economy, industries, save household costs and create jobs– but concurrently ensure it is done by professionals who uphold integrity, adhere to set standards and that consumers are protected. .

It is not that the EPRA fears that solar panels could suck up all the energy from the sun.

Nurturing this nascent sector through rigorous engagement with stakeholders bore the latest Draft Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations 2020.

Though these have stirred some debate, part of which, ill-informed, stifling a fledgling industry to unfairly benefit another one is certainly not the intention of the authority.

Indeed, it is frivolous to argue that these proposals are meant to shore up Kenya Power’s dwindling fortunes.

The debate should be based on merits or demerits of the proposals – working collaboratively to come up with a solid framework that supports a thriving sector operating on predictability, quality, protection, and order.

New entrants will be able to grab an increasingly larger share of the market knowing they come into a well-secured space.

These proposals are a culmination of consultations since 2018 and were published in the Kenya Gazette on 31st January 2020 to allow for another 40 days of views.

They are also meant to build on the gains, align to the 2010 Constitution, the Energy Act 2019 while addressing emerging trends in the industry.

Consumers must be protected against substandard solar systems. Solar imports must adhere to Kenya Standards.

To buttress it, only professionally qualified personnel should be involved in designing and installing these systems.

Having the license fees valid for three years instead of one is to infuse efficiency.

These proposals will be subjected to further scrutiny on Friday, December 11, 2020. — The writer  is a communication consultant 

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