HomeRegional NewsEast AfricaRenewable energy is not the future, it’s the present!

Renewable energy is not the future, it’s the present!

At the heart of Kenya’s economic growth lies its energy market, which is rapidly transforming across the full value chain from utility down to consumer behaviour.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 5-2019.
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Making her mark is innovator and go-getter Wangari Muchiri, who in 2019 was named an Obama Leader for Africa and recognised at Africa Science Week for her role in breaking barriers for women in STEM.

The Women in Energy feature is brought to you by Nyamezela.

Sharing the dream of achieving sustainable energy access for all, Wangari is working on the Green Product Directory project with the Kenya Green Building Society. This directory aims to make it easier for developers to find green building products and services, including renewable energy products, and be able to implement them in Kenya.

Wangari, the directory is going to make a significant impact on achieving a revolutionised energy market in the building sector.

Yes, I’m particularly proud of this project, which is instrumental in advancing the green building movement in Kenya. I hope that the directory will help developers take on more green building elements including renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. I would like to encourage various suppliers of green building materials to contact us to participate in this project.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I hold a Bachelor’s in Renewable Energy Engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney and a Master’s in Energy Planning and Policy from the University of Technology Sydney. Currently, in my position as programme development manager at Hivos East Africa, I focus on renewable energy innovation; while at the Society, I head up the technical committee.

Who are your mentors and how did they inspire you? What is the importance of having mentors?

One of my mentors is Mary Quaney, the CFO of Mainstream Renewable Power. She has taught me about work-life balance and how to break the glass ceiling gracefully against all odds. Mary is a fantastic mentor and her passion for diversity in the workplace is an inspiration to many.

Having a mentor is one of the most important ways to grow your personal brand. These professionals are a good sounding board for ideas you may have and if they are in the same industry as you, they can also be your champions in the C-suite and beyond. Take time to also connect with mentors who are in different fields from yourself as they can offer a different perspective on ideas you may have.

Besides mentors, books are a good source of inspiration and guidance. Which books have shaped your professional thinking – and how?

Absolutely. Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, has helped me reflect on career options and taking control of my work-life balance. Wanting to make the best work choices I also drew inspiration from Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P Frankel, which gave me insight into a lot about the common mistakes women make in the workplace.

Tell us about the Kenyan energy sector and opportunities for those entering this market.

The Kenyan energy sector is quite an interesting one. Until 2019, the industry was dominated by key players making it difficult for any disruptors or innovations to be introduced.

The new energy bill, which was passed in early 2019, allows for the liberalisation of the energy sector. This means we will see new innovations come into the sector. An exciting time for Kenya!

In addition, Kenya’s robust renewable energy mix, which includes Africa’s biggest wind farm, is arguably one of the most sustainable globally.

A rural school in Kajiado where Wangari is working on an innovative energy access project.

There is an energy revolution underway that the market cannot ignore. What is your advice on how to respond to the changes?

Many people are still sceptical of the rise in renewable energy globally. As a recent McKinsey & Co report notes, “The debate has shifted from ‘When will renewables take off?’ to ‘How much faster will they grow?’”.

My response to this is “faster than you think!”. The independence that renewable energy technologies offer, especially to developing countries, will be a key driver in the energy revolution.

Energy will become more affordable and decentralised across the continent, spurring new innovative models of use and production. My advice to all affected, which is everyone given energy is an enabler of all productive life, is to join the race to a sustainable energy future before it leaves them behind.

What are the opportunities that the 4IR raises for utilities and, as importantly, for consumers?

For utilities, this is an opportunity to embrace innovative business models and flexibility. In Australia, a consumer can access and manage their energy consumption from the palm of their hand and make key decisions such as buying green power or changing providers using an app.

I see the future of energy in Africa being more flexible and leapfrogging the traditional energy systems, just as we have with mobile banking. With the introduction of the IoT (Internet of Things), Blockchain and AI (artificial intelligence), energy will become more of a flexible, tradable commodity rather than a complex service as it currently is.

The industry is historically a male-dominated sector. What changes are needed so that the issue of gender becomes irrelevant?

According to the IRENA Global Gender and Renewable Energy Survey, women only make up 32% of the renewable energy workforce. In order to change this, we need to have serious reforms in policy and education in the workplace. These include employing ground-level policies such a job sharing, flexible working conditions and training to mainstream gender issues.

IRENA estimates that the number of jobs in renewables could increase from 10.3 million in 2017 to nearly 29 million in 2050, which presents an opportunity to change the gender balance landscape for the better.

What is your wish list for the electricity supply industry?

The industry has never been this vibrant before. Now is the time for the industry as a whole to encourage more young women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. This will ensure that the industry is more balanced and well rounded.

Another wish I have is that legacy players in this industry embrace new technologies such as those in the fourth industrial revolution. ESI

The Women in Energy feature is brought to you by Nyamezela.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 5-2019.
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.