Ian Parke reflects on discussions held at the 29th Institution of Engineers Kenya International Convention, held in Mombasa County.
During my visit to Kenya, in the early autumn of this year, the environment was a constant theme when talking with the Kenyans I met.
Protecting the existing eco systems that are to be found in Kenya was most important.
At the 29th Institution of Engineers Kenya International Convention, I chaired a panel discussion on the role of nuclear and renewable energy in combating climate change.
It was clear that the delegates are passionate about the opportunities that are becoming available in the low carbon energy sector.
Here are the key points from the discussion, including the views of over 100 delegates who participated.
1. External investment is welcome, but there are concerns over ‘debt traps’
I began by briefly explaining the aspiration and progress, in the UK, of moving to a low carbon energy society.
The following discussion revealed a lot of interest from the delegates on the potential debt trap of Kenya receiving overseas investment for renewable energy, from the West.
This issue was of significant concern, and not one I was expecting.
The concern was that although the external investment was welcome, the potential for being unable to pay the debt was the elephant in the room.
Indeed, I was feeling somewhat singled out, but not quite suffering from paranoia.
2. There are split opinions on the role of nuclear generation
The discussion then moved on to the role of nuclear generation, which is a policy of the Kenyan government is currently pursuing.
The main debate was around the nuclear waste that is generated and the subsequent legacy issues around this.
Again, a main concern was the West, and the potential for nuclear waste being ‘dumped’ in Kenya.
There was further discussion later in the afternoon at a separate meeting that I attended in which the delegates were equally split for and against nuclear.
3. There’s significant potential for renewable energy
One common and positive theme in the discussion was that Kenya has significant potential for renewable generation.
Being on the equator, solar is an obvious choice, and one which is widely seen as a pragmatic and low-cost solution for many isolated local communities.
It was noted that a significant number of these communities are not connected to the grid.
The availability of renewable resources within Kenya was a recurring theme for discussion and encroached into the debate on the need for nuclear energy.
Several delegates were interested in the role of hydrogen and the potential to manufacture this using the current surplus of renewable energy in Kenya.
4. Legacy must be considered
One of the consistent themes during the discussion was legacy.
In particular, the potential for a negative legacy to be left to future generations in the form of the debt trap discussed, but also of the environmental impact.
Embracing the transition to a low carbon energy future
My overall opinion of the discussion is that Kenya is embracing the transition to a low carbon energy future.
This is driven to a large extent by their aspirations to grow the economy.
Kenya recently reached lower-middle income status and has successfully established a diverse and dynamic economy. It also serves as the point of entry to the larger East African market.
The use of low carbon energy will play a significant role.