Climate change is something that affects the world's poorest people the most, and if our efforts to tackle it are to be effective they need to be led by grassroots support from the Global South
Despite being one of Africa's most rapidly developing countries, many Kenyans still face the problem of limited energy access. The quickest way for these Kenyans to get power is to harness the natural resources of wind and sun that their country has in abundance. It is much quicker and cheaper to erect solar panels and wind turbines than wait for a vast fossil fuel infrastructure to be built, much of which will never reach the remotest corners of the country. It's also vital for efforts to curb climate change that the developing nations like Kenya leapfrog the climate warming hydrocarbon fuels of the past.
The Clean Energy Cycling Caravan, consisting of 10 riders, is powering its way through 10 counties covering a total of more than a thousand kilometres. As part of a campaign called The Big Shift, the cyclists have been meeting local government officials, holding community energy cafés powered by solar panels and doing interviews with journalists. Climate change is something that affects the world's poorest people the most, and if our efforts to tackle it are to be effective they need to be led by grassroots support from the Global South.
But our actions to tackle climate change must not leave those same people cut off from the energy they need to develop and prosper. If the developed world tries to pull up the drawbridge after getting rich off the back of fossil fuels and don't provide help to its global neighbours, it will find international efforts to reduce emissions hard to achieve. That's why it is essential these efforts go hand-in-hand with providing energy access and leap frogging the dirty energy of the past to the clean energy of the future.
In Kenya, 57% of people are connected to the grid but most of that is only to providing lighting and it is neither affordable nor reliable. More than 80% of people still burn wood or charcoal for cooking. With elections looming it's the perfect time to make the case for a better and cleaner energy system.
Polling commissioned by Christian Aid has revealed that 64% of Kenyans would back a party that prioritised more clean energy so politicians can be assured there are votes to be won there.
A forward-looking Kenyan government would be able to make use of the country's abundant and reliable resources of solar and wind power, as well as renewable biogas and as-yet largely untapped geothermal wells. The danger is that as the Government moves the country away from expensive diesel generators it is turning to coal, proposing a new coal power station on the coastal island of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only will this have pollution implications, locally and atmospherically, it does not make economic sense either. Due to a lack of infrastructure the plant would rely on coal imports from South Africa, likely exacerbating Kenya's already significant trade deficit.
Developing home-grown wind and solar makes far more sense, especially as these are starting to compete with fossil fuels on price. A solar project in Kenya's North-Eastern region of Garissa is generating electricity at just $0.12 per kilowatt hour, the feed-in tariff for geothermal projects is $0.09 pkh and the Lake Turkana wind farm comes it at just $0.08 pkh - the same as the projected prices for Lamu's coal power. Add in the fact that renewable prices are heading downwards - India recently scrapped a number of coal power stations due to the falling price of solar - and there's the chance that the Lamu plant might end up being a dirty white elephant sooner rather than later.
The economics is clear, the ecological case is obvious and voters are in favour of a cleaner, greener energy system for Kenya. Let's hope these 10 young cyclists working so hard this week to spread the word can help kick-start a widespread African clean energy revolution.
Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and a New Voices Contributor for The Ecologist. He is on twitter at @wareisjoe. To find out more about the Clean Energy Cycling Caravan visit their facebook page