Rush toward green energy consigns Kenyans to continued energy poverty while limiting economic advancement.

President Joe Biden’s decree to end permitting for the construction of more liquified natural gas export facilities is clearly aimed at shoring up his support among the left as he heads into a difficult reelection campaign. The move makes Europe more vulnerable to Russia’s energy blackmail. But it also hurts developing nations such as Kenya.

Kenya, a vibrant East African nation stands at an economic crossroads—with questions on energy being the most urgent.

Kenya’s burgeoning population of 55 million people mirrors the combined populations of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The country’s landmass, at 224,960 square miles, is slightly smaller than Texas but larger than California, highlighting the vastness of the region that energy solutions are required to meet.

Access to energy is a big challenge in Kenya.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the energy landscape in Kenya is characterized by its reliance on renewable resources, mostly geothermal and hydropower, and to a lesser extent, wind, and solar energy. But that’s just electricity.

Some 70% of Kenya’s energy is from burning biomass; which is a fancy term for charcoal, firewood, cow dung and crop residue. In the rural areas, it’s as high as 90%—and it’s dirty and harmful to health.

A quick comparison between Kenya and the U.S. illuminates the challenge. On a per capita basis in 2021, America produced 165 times more energy than did Kenya while consuming 44 times more energy. Try to apply that to your own life—using almost 98% less energy in your daily routine: 98% less heating or air conditioning, 98% less personal transportation, 98% less internet use, and 98% less industrial output.

The need for more energy in Kenya cannot be overstated. Access to reliable and affordable energy is a cornerstone of economic development, facilitating industries, improving education and healthcare services, and ultimately, enhancing the quality of life—even lifespans—the average American lifespan in 2020 was 77.3 years, vs. 61.7 in Kenya.

However, the current energy infrastructure in Kenya struggles to provide consistent power, with frequent outages impacting both urban and rural areas. Kenya generates 3300 MW of electricity with about 80% of the power consumed from clean energy sources. And that number is still rising. About 45% of Kenya’s power is from geothermal, 40% from hydro, 15% from fossil fuels and 5% from solar and wind. Kenya has the largest wind farm in Africa contributing 310 MW of electricity to the national grid on a windy day.

But the government’s chase for solar and wind has seen electricity prices soar, with power more expensive than the average for the U.S. or China.

Grid reliability is a concern too, with many regions experiencing several hours of power outages daily, which significantly hampers productivity and economic growth.

Comparative Analysis with the United States

In stark contrast to Kenya, the United States boasts one of the highest rates of electricity consumption per capita in the world. This high level of energy consumption supports a wide array of economic activities—and a standard of living that is among the highest globally.

Kenya is one of the African countries with a bigger percentage of people connected to the national electric grid. Even with 83% of Kenya’s population having access to electricity, the nation’s electricity consumption is very low. Jusper’s family has six members and at the end of the month they use 12-16 kWh (kilowatt hours) for lighting, charging phones, powering a couple of laptops, a TV and a radio. Most families use 4 to 5 kWh a month in Jusper’s village. A typical American refrigerator uses 42 kWh per month and an average American household uses about 899 kWh over the same period.

The Green Energy Debate and Its Implications for Kenya

The push for green energy by Western elites raises critical questions about its applicability for developing countries like Kenya. The transition to renewable energy sources requires significant investment in technology, infrastructure, and capacity building. While developed countries may have the resources to invest in these areas, developing nations often find themselves at a disadvantage, lacking the capital, technology, and infrastructure to make a seamless transition. Moreover, they need affordable, reliable, and abundant energy now—not a few token green energy projects, designed more to assuage Western environmental consciousnesses than to address urgent requirements.

Kenyans have faced tough economic times since the IMF pressured money-hungry President Ruto to scrub off fuel subsidies, something that the former government was against. The IMF’s four reasons as to why the Kenyan government should end fuel subsidies ignore the fact that every other industry is run by the energy industry and therefore, higher energy prices means tougher economic times. The IMF knows that fuel subsidies promote the use of fossil fuels. High fuel prices means that poor people who use kerosene lamps for lighting will now be forced to stay in darkness. Forests will be cleared more because propane prices are also high and burning firewood is the best way to keep energy expenses low.

For Kenya, the rush towards green energy consigns its population to continued energy poverty while limiting economic advancement.