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Assessing the Role of Small and Medium Scale Renewables in Poverty Alleviation, Environmental Sustainability and Economic Sustainability in Kenya


Stephen Karekezi, Jennifer Wangeci and Oscar Onguru

Executive Summary

Kenya’s available energy sources include wood fuel, petroleum, hydropower, geothermal power and to a limited extent, renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind.  Kenya’s energy scene is dominated by two primary factors; a predominant reliance on dwindling biomass energy resources to meet the energy needs of the rural households and heavy dependence on imported petroleum for the modern economic sector needs.  Kenya is endowed with significant amounts of diverse renewable energy sources, including biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, mini/micro hydro and co-generation.

Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2003 stood at US$ 12.7 billion with a per capita income of US$ 341. In 2004, Kenya’s GDP (purchasing power parity) was US$ 34.6 billion and the GDP per capita was US$ 1,100 while in 2000 the GDP (purchasing power parity) was estimated at US$ 45.6 billion and the per capita purchasing power parity was US$ 1,500 (

Incidence of poverty in Kenya shows that 53.7 % of the Rural and 52.9 % of the urban population live below the poverty line. At the national level, the total percentage of people living below the poverty line is 52.6% (SID, 2004) out of an estimated population of 30.4 million in 2001, which was projected to increase at a rate of 2.4% per annum. (GOK, 2002b)

The high and medium potential areas (HMPAs) contain majority of the rural population as most of the rural poor are concentrated here. Six out of the eight provinces in Kenya have more than 55% of their population living in poverty. Three provinces, North Eastern, Nyanza and Coast have at least 70% of the population living in poverty. One of the implications of poverty in Kenya is low level of modern energy consumption. 4.6% of rural and 50.2% of urban households only enjoys access to electricity. This gives a national average of 15% access to electricity (SID, 2004).

The overall objective of this study was to assess the role of small-scale renewables in poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and economic development. This study was essentially a desk study and therefore involved intensive and extensive literature review, secondary data search, collection, analyses, collation and synthesis. The study examined the most current government documents, including national development plans, statistical abstracts and other statistical and technical publications. Various other sources of data and information were consulted including books, journals, technical newsletters, media articles and the Internet. Due to time and resource constraints, only a limited amount of primary data was collected and utilised.

Findings from the study show that there is growing evidence that investment in small and medium-scale renewables projects may have more impacts in improving the energy services for the majority of the population especially the poor, they could play a vital role in minimising fuel imports by providing an alternative to thermal-based electricity and can play a very important role in poverty alleviation and this is particularly true of the small scale renewables that are locally made and operate on the basis of solar, thermal or animate power. Such systems cannot only provide energy that is affordable to the poor but can also be a source of employment and enterprise creation for both rural and urban poor.

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