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Big Blackout of January 2015

02 Feb

More than half of Kenya, including the capital Nairobi, suffered a power outage early on Friday 16 January after a major transmission line failed as reported by Kenya Power, which is the country’s sole electricity distributor, said the blackout started at 03:39. It managed to restore power to most places by 07:15. The outage resulted from a system disturbance on a 220 kV transmission line running between Nairobi and Olkaria, about 100km northwest of the capital. East Africa’s largest economy is struggling with an ageing energy infrastructure that sometimes curbs efforts to improve supply in order to attract investments. The outage affected some police operations that rely on power supply. Some hospitals that do not have standby power supply were also affected.

The costs are calculated and the country is losing millions of dollars in loss of production due to these power outages. Calls for the government to step up the upgrading of power supply infrastructure have increased over the years but response to it has been minimal and slow. Only last year Kenya Power contracted a 17 billion shillings long term loan from standard chartered bank to aid in upgrade of its systems which often suffer technical hitches as well as loss of about 30 percent of electricity during transmission. Kenya power has admitted that they need additional resources to revamp its ageing network to make the county’s electricity supply secure. Businesses in the country often rely on diesel generators to make up the gap between power demand and output and cite frequent localised power blackouts as one of the key barriers to economic growth. Therefore, the supply and pricing of electricity is a critical pillar in the race to attract new investments in the economy and tackle the time bomb of growing youth unemployment—which is a core issue of President Kenyatta’s government. While Kenya Power has been clamouring for increasing tariffs the government is stuck between allowing the tariffs to increase and their duty to protect the citizens from high prices.  The big question in investors’ mind is whether the economy is comfortable with cheaper and erratic electricity supply or plentiful and costly power. There is need to reach a middle ground on this query. What the country needs most is renewable energy such as wind power, hydro and geothermal to meet its needs. In sum, there is need for consultations to guarantee cheaper and adequate electricity instead on taking easy, populist decisions.



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