Kenyan contractors and property developers who fail to install solar water heating systems on buildings that use more than 100 litres of hot water a day risk jail terms and fines under new rules laid down by the country's energy sector regulator.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has warned developers and contractors that they must comply with energy regulations published in May 2012 on solar water heating, or risk the penalties, which aim to cut the use of non-renewable energy.
"Any person who fails to comply with regulations of the ERC on water heating systems commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a conviction of Kenya shilling 1 million (about $12,000) or to imprisonment for a term of one year, or to both", said a media notice signed by the ERC's Director-General Kaburu Mwirichia.
The regulations have until now been largely ignored by construction industry, which compelled the ERC to publish a notice on its intent to enforce them.
The rules also bar any electric power distributor from supplying electricity to premises that have not been fitted with a solar water heating system, under threat of similar sanctions.
The ERC says that only contractors and technicians it has licensed can install solar systems, and that they must comply with approved standards.
Enforcement of the rules will begin immediately on all buildings under construction, while buildings constructed before 2012 also must be retrofitted with solar heating by May 2017, when a five-year grace period will expire.
Those affected by the regulations include hotels, schools, homes, airports, government buildings and factories.
According to Joseph Kariuki, a contractor and director of Wabere Construction in Nairobi, builders have avoided mentioning the rules to developers and other clients fear of increasing the costs of construction.
"Many contractors fear overloading their clients with too many costs on top of the main construction work, but the rules will have to be complied with anyway, so lately builders are reminding clients of dangers of ignoring this rule," Kariuki said in an interview.
Standard solar water heating systems cost between $1,200 and $2,000, and installation costs can be as much $300. Kariuki said that many people don't like the additional expense since the regulation has not traditionally been part of building requirements.
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But according to Youssef Arafaoui , renewable energy director at the African Development Bank, such costs pale in comparison to the money later spent on bills for fossil fuel heating - and the harm to the environment that result from the use of non-renewable energy sources.
Arafaoui said standard solar systems can last for more than 20 years, saving users a great deal of money.
"The benefits are huge and apart from the initial costs of installing the systems, power bills are kept in check and a lot of electric power is saved," he added.
The ERC estimates that as much as 20 percent of the total power consumed in Kenya each day goes to urban Kenyans heating water, a situation it says is not sustainable in a country with major power shortfalls and some of the highest prices of electricity per unit on the continent.
The east African country has an installed power capacity of 1,600 megawatts (MW), but has huge potential for additional renewable energy, including geothermal power. Exploitation of geothermal has been slowed by a shortage of the investment needed to tap it, however.
Demand for electricity is currently growing by around 400 MW a year, but industrialisation ministry experts predict that Kenya will need around 25,000 MW of power to reach the government's goal of becoming a medium-income industrialised country by 2030.
Some tenants who live in flats are happy with the new requirement for solar heating systems because this would lead to savings in power bills. But others fear that that the new systems may lead landlords to charge higher rent.
"I would grab at an opportunity to move into a residential block fitted with such a system," said Liz Kiruki a resident of upper Kabete on the outskirts of Nairobi. "My only prayer is that owners would not charge higher rent because of this," she said.
Maina Waruru is a freelance science journalist based in Nairobi.