Charcoal is a popular energy source in Kenya with an estimated Ksh. 40 billion worth of charcoal being used by households every year. Other sources of energy that Kenyans use include firewood, kerosene, LPG gas, solar, biogas and even briquettes.
Charcoal, firewood and kerosene are the most popular source of energy especially for low income households. These households use these energy sources to cook and for the case of kerosene, it also sometimes doubles as a lighting source. The problem with these three is that they cause air pollution and are responsible for an estimated 4 million deaths each year worldwide.
The Kenyan Government has acknowledged the need for improved access to clean energy for Kenyans. The National Energy Policy for instance identified the need for the availability of cost effective and affordable sources of energy for especially low income homes. It also identifies several initiatives that can be pursued to ensure that Kenyans are able to access an energy mix that will improve their lives and drive socio-economic transformation.
A study conducted by the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) and Ministry of Energy and Petroleum in 2019, concluded that there was a need for a shift to clean cooking. According to the study, 36 million Kenyans use unclean sources of energy for cooking. This exposes them to harmful gases such as methane and carbon monoxide which can create health problems and are also not good for the environment. The report concluded that a shift to clean energy sources for cooking was essential. It also noted that the main reason that most Kenyans are not able to shift to clean energy sources is cost.
The African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), a policy research think-tank that promotes research on science with technology and innovation for sustainable development, recently conducted research on energy access in informal settlements in Nairobi. The study documented experiences from various energy players, and consumers in Kayole, Komarock, Kibra, Lucky Summer, Mathare North, Ruaraka, Dagoretti, and Korogocho. The report also includes input from experts and policy makers.
The report by ACTS found that most households use electricity for lighting, although most of it is illegally connected. Other sources of energy for lighting for these households are solar and kerosene at 6% each. These households prefer solar, because it is a one-off cost but it unfortunately depends on availability and intensity of the sun. For cooking, most households use charcoal. Charcoal use in these locations is at 25%, followed by LPG 19%, charcoal briquettes 19% and kerosene, 19% and firewood at 12%. Other sources of energy for cooking are briquettes and electricity at 13% each, followed by biogas at 6%.
It turns out that most households (62%) would prefer to use LPG gas to cook but because they are low income, they are not able to acquire and use gas for their cooking needs. This validates the conclusion from the Ministry of Energy report that we talked about earlier in the article. The study also focused on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on energy use. Reduced income due to the pandemic has had an impact on the demand for goods and the ability of low income households to afford items they could afford before.
As part of the study, ACTS commissioned a docu-series dubbed Energy Stories which interviewed various players and experts in the energy sector plus energy users in informal settlements in Nairobi.
Kennedy Mwangi, a kerosene supplier in Laki Summer, kerosene is a popular item in the area with people queueing to buy. An average person buys Ksh. 50 worth of kerosene. According to him, the price of kerosene has been going up over the years and demand has dropped because of this. Kerosene is also apparently not readily available.
Rolex Omolo sells fish in Kayole and he cooks with firewood. He says that he is aware of the dangers and health concerns of cooking with charcoal but he says that he has no choice. Apparently firewood works for him because it cooks fast & is affordable.
Providing clean and efficient energy for households in Kenya is therefore important. The emphasis should be on reducing the reliance on unclean energy sources such as charcoal. According to energy, water and climate change advisory company, EED Advisory, gas is the best source of clean energy for cooking that Kenyans can have. According to them, a subsidy to bring the cost to Ksh. 1,125 for a 6KG cylinder would help 70% of all households to transition to cooking with gas.
Government involvement is therefore crucial to ensure the access to clean energy for low income households in Kenya. Its own reports have shown the need for availability of clean energy but its recent policies, not so much. The Finance Act for instance removed the tax exemption for clean cookstoves, solar and wind equipment, non-electric domestic appliances and solar batteries. LPG gas will also lose its zero rated tax status in 2021. This means that clean energy sources will now be more expensive and will be out of reach for those that need it the most.
The ACTS study concluded that low income households, especially those in informal settlements, have been left out in the country’s energy related policies. The residents of these informal settlements are aware of the existence of clean cooking energy solutions but are unable to afford them. The Government should do more to ensure that more Kenyans are able to affordably access modern and clean energy cooking solutions.