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Biogas – Alternative Energy Development in Kenya

Kennedy Odoyo

In Kenya the building sector is a major consumer of energy both at domestic and industrial level. “It is generally believed that energy consumption accounts for over 70 percent of the total running cost of an average building,” says Kennedy Odoyo, a mechanical engineer at the Ministry of Public Works. This includes energy for water heating, cooking and lighting among others.

“We have been eager to exploit material resources, but we have often overlooked the role of energy or the fact that energy resources are limited,” Odoyo says, adding that today the availability and cost of energy have become dominant factors in society and have prompted a global push for the present and future energy security.

There is an immediate challenge posed by the diminishing availability of non renewable energy sources, whose costs are ever on the increase. Environmental degradation due to the large scale use of fossil fuels and biomass (wood) has necessitated global consideration of new sources of energy whose merits lie in their abundance and economic viability. “Apart from augmenting the energy supply, renewable resources will help in mitigating climate change,” Odoyo stated.

Kenya is facing acute energy scarcity which is hampering industrial growth and economic development. Investing in new power plants requires a lot of capital and is dependent on the import of highly volatile fossil fuel. The government is now putting an emphasis on alternative energy in order to sustain demand.

The Ministry of Public Works says that this requires the judicious utilization of renewable energy such as solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, biomass and biogas.

The Private Sector Development in Agriculture (PSDA) in partnership with the Agency for Technical Cooperation (GIZ) on behalf of the German government and the Ministry of Agriculture on behalf of the Kenyan government, have initiated a programme to scale up biogas use in Kenya with a target of two million potential users over the next four years.

The Programme Manager Reimund Hoffman says that the programme attracted European Union support in January 2008, since which time it has been funded to the tune of Sh 250 million. Hoffman said that by April 2011 more than 300 artisans had been trained in biogas construction and about 30 biogas construction businesses were established and formerly registered.

The Department of Electrical and Mechanical Building Services, Ministry of Public Works, is mandated to design and provide essential engineering services to government buildings. The Department appreciates the inevitability of change and is tracing the  alternative energy path.

The aim is to reduce energy expenditure in government buildings in line with the national energy management plan in consonance with global trends. Equally important, is ensuring that energy based services are offered even in areas not currently served with electricity.

An example of the use of biogas instead of electricity is in the fish landing sites along the remote Lake Victoria shores where bio-digesters have been designed by M & E Consulting Engineers to generate biogas for water heating as well as human waste management.

Slaughterhouses, coffee and food processing plants and other similar processes that generate waste water rich in organic matter, are all potential biogas generators.

Food processing plants have been widely researched in Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. Kenya is following suit too. The slurry that is used to generate biogas can also be collected and used as fertilizer.

As an energy alternative, biogas production is relatively cheap as locally available materials can be used. It does not require advanced technology to construct and maintain bio-digesters. Its use reduces deforestation.

According to Agricultural Secretary Dr Wilson Songa, the use of biogas is currently saving more than 40 hectares of trees annually, which would translate to 600 hectares in 15 years.

Further, bio-digesters are used to manage human waste in so called biogas toilets taking the place of septic tanks especially in rural areas and high settlement areas. The effluent from the reactor is nutrient rich dark slurry, a good fertilizer for agriculture and aquaculture.

The biogas produced is used with dedicated cylinders to heat water. It provides a high quality fuel for cooking using special biogas burners and is used for space lighting using dedicated lamps. In large quantities it can be used to drive electric generators.

The advantage of biogas production is two fold in that it provides cheap alternative energy as well as a waste management process. Biogas production does not require skilled technology and involves the use of locally available materials for pit construction (such as bricks) and fermentation (such as human excreta, animal waste and plant leaves).

Biogas can address the rural energy problem by reducing deforestation. It has been approved by UNESCO and UNEP in respect of scientific development and environment management. Biogas production lends itself to rural applications as approved by the Global Alliance for Community empowerment.

Biogas as an alternative fuel is widely used in many countries with China and India taking the lead in this viable technology. The use of cattle dung to generate biogas is well known in India. China has invested in this technology with much success to solve their energy deficit problem. In rural areas, biogas satisfies the cooking needs of the local people.

“This has had an enormous impact on the economic growth of these rapidly modernizing countries. If Kenya aspires to be a middle level nation by the year 2030 then it should take its cue from the two Asians giants,” Odoyo says.

Additionally he says “We must start making the transition from conventional energy system to those based on renewable resources to meet the ever increasing demand and to tackle the problem of energy efficiency, energy dependence, energy security and price.”

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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