4 August 2010

Kenya: Petroleum Price Rally Spurs Search for Clean Energy

James Mungai has just finished cleaning the cow shed that houses his three dairy cows.

The fresh green slurry manure sitting in a concrete mixing tank is ready to be fed into a biogas digester.

"We no longer buy gas for cooking," the Kiambu Road-based dairy farmer, on the outskirts of Nairobi, says as he opens a big tap to let out the slurry into the digester.

"We mix the manure using a one-to-one water to manure ratio and as the gas is produced in the digester the older substrate comes out using that outlet," he says, pointing to a concrete outlet.

Mr Mungai is one of a new army of farmers who have embraced alternative energy sources as the cost of fuel continues to rise.

It is also a good answer to food security as the manure is used to enrich farmland.

"The manure is excellent and does not even smell foul. It will be taken to the nappier grass shamba tomorrow," he says with a big smile on his face.

"If you accidentally left the gas on and lit a match stick, it will not explode because the methane in it readily mixes with air," he adds.

Mr Mungai's is one of the families that are embracing alternative technology in an effort to save on rising firewood, charcoal, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) costs.

Growing awareness of the benefits of alternative energy and increased availability of technology that helps generate clean fuel have pushed up demand and created revenue for some firms.

Companies dealing in biogas equipment, energy saving jikos, and light emitting diode (LED) solar lanterns are doing brisk business as more individuals and institutions turn to these technologies.

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, between June 2009 and June 2010 kerosene prices rose by 13 per cent from Sh58 to Sh65 per litre, while the price of a 13 kilogramme cylinder of LPG rose by 11 per cent from Sh1,915 to Sh2,121.

In Nairobi, charcoal prices have risen from Sh600 per sack last year to between Sh800 and Sh1,000 this year.

Kerosene and LPG prices have increased at the same rate as diesel and petrol prices that have gone up 13 and 10 per cent respectively over the same period due to increased global demand and depreciation of the shilling.

As a result, the price of kerosene has increased from an average of $83 per litre in January to $93 by April per barrel. The average price today is about $86 per barrel.

Charcoal burning in government forests has been illegal since November 1999, while the government, and other agencies', intensified forest conservation efforts are affecting supply of charcoal and driving up prices.

Experts estimate that over two million tonnes of charcoal are consumed in Kenya annually while the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) says over 80 per cent of urban and 50 per cent of rural dwellers use the fuel to cook.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) estimated biomass energy supply at 15.4 million tonnes against demand of over 38.1 million tonnes in 2004, reflecting a deficit of about 60 per cent.

The German Agency for Technical Cooperation Promotion of Private Sector Development in Agriculture (GTZ-PSDA) estimates that only 16 per cent of the population has access to electricity and over 80 per cent relies on biomass and expensive fuel sources such as kerosene and LPG.

John Maina, the chief executive of SCODE, a Nakuru-based NGO that supports charcoal stove production and links producers to the market, says there has been an increase in demand for both energy saving stoves and small solar home lighting systems.

"During the last six months we have experienced a growth of 16 per cent in sales of energy saving stoves and a 1,500 per cent increase in sales of solar lanterns.

Prices of good quality energy saving charcoal stoves vary from Sh300 to Sh400 depending on size and the seller.

The prices of good quality firewood burning stoves range from Sh150 to Sh720," he says.

Apart from lighting homes, some LED solar lanterns have added features such as charging mobile phones and running radios.

The lanterns can last for between four and 50 hours and retail at between Sh1,300 and Sh1,700 each.

Energy saving jikos reduce wood consumption by 35 to 50 per cent when compared to traditional three-stone fire places common in rural and peri-uban homes.

Demand for biogas has been on the rise especially in peri-urban and rural areas where farmers who engage in zero grazing are adopting new technology.

Association of Biogas Contractors of Kenya (ABC-K) secretary-general David Jesse says demand for the fuel is rising.

Increased awareness

"There is increased awareness of biogas as an alternative source of energy in this country. Our members construct an average of 30 domestic plants per month," he says.

The main reason for increased demand "is the continued awareness of alternative and environment friendly energy technologies. The dwindling sources of fuel-wood and increased cost of energy sources are also major reasons," says Kenda Mwenja, biogas expert.

The GTZ-PSDA project introduced subsidy grants for biogas plants for rural people.

"After introduction of the subsidy demand has gone up. We now receive more than 30 enquiries and applications per month. Farmers involved in dairy farming see an opportunity to increase value of their dairy farming. To some extent biogas adds some status to adopting farmers," says Mr Mwenja.

"Initial investment is high, but benefits accrue for a long period of time and are not easily noticed. Analysis of a biogas plant in 2009 showed that smallholder farmers with three to eight cows save between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000 per month on energy," he says.

Mr Jesse says that two to three cows can service a plant of four cubic metres, which costs about Sh50,000 to construct.

"The principle behind biogas is based on conversion of waste to energy. The only cost that goes into it is construction cost. It has minimum to zero operational or maintenance costs making it a free energy source in the long run," he says.

Clean energy

Institutions have also adopted clean energy technology in an effort to save costs.

Mr Maina says institutions such as St Joseph's Kari Secondary School, PCEA Emmanuel Church in Nakuru, Wheat Field Education Centre in Rongai, Abasweni Secondary School, Grift primary and secondary schools, Gobet Secondary School in Wajir, and AIC Lochorai centre in Njoro have adopted the clean energy technology.

"Institutions like Moi and Egerton universities, Katulani Secondary School in Kitui and Keekonyokie Slaughter House in Kiserian have adopted biogas technology," says Mr Jesse.

Mr Mwenja, at the GTZ-PSDA office, says: "We have successfully supported schools like Goibei Girls in Vihiga, Vick Merry School in Ruai, Compuera Girls in Mang'u, Starehe Girls, Furaha School, Imani Rehabilitation, Ngurika School in Nakuru and Tumaini School in Kiambu."

"At Tumaini School a co-digestion where human waste and cattle dung are used has been demonstrated. This applies particularly to institutions with interest in biogas but which have few cattle," he adds.

The GTZ-PSDA project recently participated in the launch of a 124 cubic meter biogas plant costing Sh500,000 at Dr Makewa Farm in Tala.

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