Climate Fact Check: Contrary to claim, renewable energy is affordable and not a preserve of the rich

A Facebook user named Jonathan Blackford posted on November 14 that renewable energy is a myth of the vastly prosperous, enervated, decadent and declining societies. 

But according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook, solar and wind energy continue to be the cheapest renewable energy sources, as they cost less than fossil fuel alternatives and continue to be more affordable each year.

Renewable energy, often referred to as clean energy, comes from natural sources or processes that are constantly replenished. For example, sunlight and wind keep shining and blowing, even if their availability depends on time and weather.

Harnessing nature’s power has long been used for heating, transportation, to grow and dry crops, lighting and more. Wind has powered boats to sail the seas and windmills to grind grain.

When it comes to defining what is affordable or not, the Climate Reality Project suggests looking at the impact of energy bills on families and assessing those to whom the bills amount to a major financial burden.

The energy burden, defined as the percentage of household income that goes towards settling energy costs – electricity bills, home heating and transportation – can only mean that if you earn less, your energy burden will be heavier.

“Higher energy burdens have real implications on the health and wellbeing of families and individuals,” the Climate Reality Project says. 

“Families who have to devote higher proportions of their income to utility bills may have to make trade-offs between heating and cooling their homes or affording other necessities, such as food, medicine, and childcare.

“Energy efficiency and renewable technologies, particularly solar energy, can not only lower energy bills for low-income households, but are also proven to improve indoor air quality, safety, and comfort, bettering health outcomes.”

According to Centurion, Kenya’s energy mix is dominated by bioenergy (64.6 per cent of total primary energy supply), oil products (16.9 per cent), renewable energy sources such as wind and solar (15.2 per cent), and to a lesser extent coal and hydropower (1.9 per cent). 

“Renewable energy sources account for 70 per cent of Kenya’s installed electrical capacity. Hydropower, geothermal, bioenergy, wind and solar energy are the primary renewable energy sources in Kenya,” Centurion says. 

“Every year, an increasing number of Kenyans choose solar energy rather than connecting their households to the country’s electrical grid because of the high cost of setting up such a connection as well as the high cost of purchasing electricity from Kenya Power.

“With installed solar capacity ranging from 4 to 8 megawatts, Kenya has one of the most active commercial photovoltaic system marketplaces in the developing world, ranking second only to India.” 

About 200,000 rural homes in Kenya, Centurion says, have solar home systems and Kenya sells between 25,000 and 30,000 photovoltaic modules each year. 

“Sales of total photovoltaic capacity were predicted to reach 750 kWp in 2002, and they have climbed by 170 per cent in eight years, despite the absence of government intervention or legislation to encourage the adoption of photovoltaic technology,” it adds.

In June 2021, former President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the Finance Bill 2021 into law, which reinstated VAT exemptions on renewable energy items to help promote clean cooking.

The Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) says that over the years, Kenya has initiated programmes to install solar systems in schools and other facilities in rural areas. This would allow the use of solar-powered laptops, refrigerators, lanterns and other home lighting systems.

Powerphase Generation Smart also states that renewable power is increasingly cheaper than new and existing fossil fuel-fired plants.

“[Some] 56 per cent of capacity additions for utility scale renewable power in 2019 achieved lower electricity costs than the cheapest new coal plant,” it says. 

“[Some $23 billion] would be potentially saved annually if the costliest of 500 watts of existing coal were replaced by solar and wind.”

Inspire Clean Energy also says that the price of renewable energy could be dropping because the demand is going up. As it goes further up, companies sell it for less, which further drives demand.

“There’s also a lot to be said for research. When results, statistics, and facts about a relatively new energy source become available, governments, corporations, and industries are more likely to invest in them,” it says. 

“This idea makes sense and is why fossil fuels have been so heavily relied upon thus far; nobody wants to invest in a new technology that hasn’t proven itself yet.

“There’s also the financial element of energy resources to consider. While environmental sustainability is the primary factor that makes renewables attractive to the average consumer, it’s the money that draws in corporations and governments. 

“If a governmental body believes that its country will prosper financially over the next few decades, it will see renewables as a worthwhile investment.”

Inspire Clean Energy adds that by “dividing the costs of renewable energy among capital, fuel, and operations and maintenance, we notice that renewables like solar power, wind energy, and geothermal energy may not initially be cheap”. 

“Still, they do not incur fuel costs once installed, and they typically come with lower operation and maintenance costs, too. When we assess the overall cost of various energy sources, we must also consider when, where, and how often we can use each resource,” it says. 

“Wind and solar power can now compete with fossil fuels while offering countless vital health and environmental benefits, but they’re still technically intermittent and inconsistent resources.”

But even though the affordability of solar and wind power is driven by government subsidies, the group says, it is still vital in slowing down damage to the planet. 

Besides being environmentally friendly, “wind energy, for example, provides employment, boosts local economies and offsets the release of harmful chemicals into the air”, it says. 

“Wind energy alone avoided over 40 million cars’ worth of emissions in 2019, and in some towns, wind farms help keep local taxes low.” 

This fact check was produced by the Nation with support from Code for Africa’s PesaCheck, the International Fact Checking Network, and the African Fact Checking Alliance Network.

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