Kenya to get 50% of electricity from solar by 2016

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From solar-powered irrigation to pay-as-you-go solar power systems, there’s lots of interesting distributed power projects going on in Kenya that have the potential to leapfrog the kind of centralized, fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure that we in America find ourselves reliant on. But here’s another type of leapfrogging:

The Guardian reports that Kenya has committed to building nine massive solar power plants, enough to power half the country’s electricity needs, and it plans to have completed the project by 2016.

Now the renewable energy sector, like most industries, suffers from its fair share of hyperbole and spin. But even if the details of such an ambitious effort are half true, this is a project that is astounding in both its scale and its potential impact. Here’s more from The Guardian on the details:

Construction of the plants, expected to cost $1.2bn (£73m), is set to begin this year and initial design stages are almost complete. The partnership between government and private companies will see the state contributing about 50% of the cost.

Cliff Owiti, a senior administrator at the Kenya Renewable Energy Association, said the move will protect the environment and bring down electricity costs. “We hope that when the entire project is completed by 2016, more than 50% of Kenya’s energy production will consist of solar. Already we are witnessing solar investments in Kenya such as a factory that was opened here in 2011 that manufactures solar energy panels.”

In a world where so-called developed countries squabble over long-term carbon cuts of 10 or 20%, the idea of going all out for renewables like this is both heartening and inspiring. Let’s hope that other countries take heed.

It’s one thing to have to manage a transition from dirty, expensive but already built fossil fuel infrastructure to a clean energy economy, it’s quite another to have the opportunity to built it clean from scratch.