Kenya imported 20.87 million kilowatt hours of electricity from Uganda in January 2017. The step up in power importation from Uganda is because their hydro power is cheaper than the diesel generated thermal power available in Kenya.
Drought conditions currently prevalent in Kenya have pushed back the amount of power that can be realized by the hydro power plants in Kenya. These conditions in Northern Kenya, Coast and Eastern has particularly affected water levels in hydro power generating dams, forcing Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) to switch to taking up power from diesel using thermal power generators, pushing up the cost of power bills. Reports show that domestic and commercial consumers used 829 million kWh of power in January. Geothermal accounted for 45.8 per cent, followed by hydro-electric power 30.3 per cent, while thermal grew to 23.7 per cent from 18.6 per cent in December.
Uganda has been exporting electricity to Kenya under an agreement established in pre-independence times but renegotiated in 1997. This regional power interconnection was the first of its kind in East Africa. It was done in 1955 with the commissioning of the Kenya-Uganda 132 kV power line which connected the power generation at the Owen Falls Hydroelectric power station with load centers in Kenya. This line has been the backbone of Kenya’s power grid; it traverses Tororo, Musaga, Lessos, Lanet and Nairobi.
Apart from this avenue, Kenya also imports power from Ethiopia to feed Moyale, which is not linked to Kenya’s national electricity grid. Kenya and Ethiopia are undertaking a 500 kV DC transmission line from Ethiopia. This line has a power transfer capacity of 2,000 MW and is at an advanced stage of implementation. The project is expected to cost USD1.26 billion being financed by the African Development Bank. It runs about 1,045km, of which 445km is within Ethiopia’s territory and the rest in Kenya. In 2016 China Electric Power Equipment and Technology (CET) announced that it had officially commenced the construction of the transmission line.
Ethiopia is determined to be a major exporter of power in this region. The country currently exports about 10 megawatts of power to Kenyan border towns. They plan to sell 100 megawatts to Sudan and 50 megawatts to Djibouti. Besides these, the country has agreements to export 400 megawatts to Rwanda and Tanzania and soon to Burundi. Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda plan to build a 400-kilovolt electricity line running from Olkaria in Kenya through Uganda to Birembo in Rwanda.
Kenya and Tanzania which currently enjoy a less than cordial business relationship have an agreement for power exchange at border towns which are not connected to their national grids. In 2014, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya signed a MoU to fund a USD 1.2 billion power inter-connector project that will connect the East African Power Pool to the Southern African Power Pool.