As the Kenyan economy slows down in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), so has the electricity consumption and one quick way to increase demand is to turn to electricity for cooking. Consequently, the Government of Kenya has urged Kenyans to consume more electricity by cooking using electricity. This is in an attempt to increase electricity consumption which has been on the decline due to Covid-19 pandemic related restrictions.
The paradox about electricity consumption is that unlike many other sources of energy, the more it is consumed, the more prices can go down. This is because of the nature of electricity generation where a lot of costs are fixed.
Fixed costs of electricity production
Electricity distributors pay a lot in fixed costs to power producers. There are fixed charges and consumption charges. This is because people who invest in power production incur costs irrespective of whether the power is being consumed or not. There are fixed operating costs that can only be covered if a plant is in operation.
A wind farm will lose money if the power produced is not evacuated since it cannot be stored for later use. The same case with solar energy. In the case of Hydroelectric Power, the options for reducing production do not make much sense especially when the dams are already filled to capacity.
Now that there is excess production, is it possible for people to increase their electricity consumption and take advantage of the excess power?
This is highly unlikely.
Cost of electricity in Kenya
The cost of electricity in Kenya is quite high and when it comes to cooking, alternative sources of energy are readily available. As of September 2019, the cost of electricity in Kenya was USD 0.222 per kWh for households and USD 0.182 for business. In comparison, the cost in South Africa was 0.117 per kWh for households and USD 0.056 for businesses.
It would be hard for Kenyans to result in electricity as a matter of charity as opposed to economics. Unfortunately, increasing consumption results in even higher charges per unit of electricity since electricity are subsidized for consumers who spend the least amount of electricity per month.
Many households in urban areas depend on charcoal and liquified petroleum gas as a source of fuel. Switching to electricity would mean acquiring additional cooking equipment such as hot plates, electric cookers, or induction cookers.
These are costly investments that people would need to do in the middle of the pandemic. Although the cost of LPG has increased recently, most people will stick to LPG or result in other unclean sources of energy.
There is no short-term solution to increasing electricity consumption, save for significantly lowering the cost to encourage people to consume.
In the recent past, some industries have opted to relocate from Kenya and to places like Ethiopia where the cost of electricity is cheaper. This calls for Kenya to find a way of making electricity more affordable in order to remain competitive.
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