Yesterday Kenya Power and Lighting company re-branded to Kenya Power in what many brand experts believe is a long overdue effort to reinvent itself as a modern corporate. There is a joke going around that they removed the words lighting from their name so that they will not be held responsible for power blackouts.

KPLC by all means was much better run than most power companies in Africa (Including Eskom of South Africa) and this means that Kenya enjoys better power supply than many countries in Africa. in Nigeria for example, the local power company is a backup to the personal generators people own instead of the generators being the backup to the mains power.

One of the reasons why Kenyans enjoy a more stable power supply is because we also pay one of the highest tariffs in Africa. This has had the effect of making the country hostile to major manufacturing companies some of whom have shifted base to lower tariff countries such as Egypt and South Africa. Just to give you a glimpse of how high the tariffs are and how they can impact business, Bamburi cement pays over KES 90 Million in electricity bills per month. Mumias sugar even started generating its own electricity to subsidize what they buy from KPLC.

There has been a concerted campaign by stakeholders to reduce the cost of power in the country. One of they ways was to reduce the operating costs of KPLC by outsourcing most of its O&M services to third parties who are now responsible for grid extension and maintenance (if you have the prepaid meter in your house, it was installed by a third party non-KPLC employee)

They have also deployed prepaid metering which converted their negative cash flow into  positive and at the same time reduced the cost associated with manual post paid metered billing, these costs included postage of bills, fuel and salaries for the meter readers and their motorbikes roaming the country to read meters.

These are commendable efforts by KPLC (now Kenya power) to reduce operating costs and have a positive cash flow.

I however think that they should now embark on deploying a smart grid system and work on improving the efficiency of the Kenya transmission network.

In my university days, my lecturer in advanced electric power generation was also the immediate outgoing  director at KIRDI and he stated something very profound that KIRDI had researched on. he said that if KPLC could improve the efficiency of the Kenyan grid by just 1%, Kenya would save up to KES 7 billion annually on energy that goes to waste due to inefficient grid system. That is money you and me pay in our monthly bills.
The conversion f the grid into a smart grid could also significantly reduce wasted energy used in reactive load forecasting as the load put on the system would automatically adjust the generation capacities in real-time. Right now the load forecast systems are archaic and manual worked out on an excel sheet. The smart grid would:

  • Better facilitate the connection and operation of generators of all sizes and technologies hence allowing small scale generating companies and homes participate in the generation of electricity and feeding it into the national grid. If a solar panel in a house not using electricity during the day is on, it feeds the power into the national grid for use by other people around the country and the owner gets some money out of it instead of it going to waste;
  • It would allow consumers to play a part in optimizing the operation of the system;
  • Provide consumers with greater information and options for choice of supply e.g. rate of consumption;
  • Significantly reduce the environmental impact of the whole electricity supply system;
  • Maintain or even improve the existing high levels of system reliability, quality and security of supply;
  • Maintain and improve the existing services efficiently(c) Above points are from Wikipedia with my additions.

The smart grid would also be very versatile and like a TCP/IP network with very fast fault recovery times in case of a line break.

They new company should also either adopt air cooled transformers and replace the oil cooled ones which are prone to vandalism for the oil or de-gazette the trading and use of transformer oil which according to the laws of Kenya only KPLC can transact or use transformer oil. They can change this law and avail it in retail outlets and this will stop transformer vandalism. India is an example of a country that has deployed the air cooled transformers with success.

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