Germany warms to Kenya′s solar potential | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 13.07.2011
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Germany warms to Kenya's solar potential

When it comes to energy, Germany's relations with Africa have traditionally revolved around getting access to resources like oil and gas. But new prospects are emerging around developing renewable energies.

Solar panels in the sun

Kenya is an under-developed market for solar energy

The building itself is almost lost among the vast grounds of the United Nations campus in Nairobi.

At first glance, it's nothing special, a modern office complex. What sticks out is what's on the roof of the new headquarters of the UN Environment Programme: A photovoltaic system.

"The house provides its own energy," says the site's construction manager, John Muyo. "It is the first eco-house of its kind in Africa."

The technology comes from Germany and that was reason enough for Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit during her trip to Kenya.

The chancellor wants to see for herself the potential to deploy renewable energies in Africa, not least because German companies are carving out a significant share of the market for renewable energy technologies, especially in the area of solar power.

The German development agency GIZ is promoting this engagement with Africa, seeing it as a win-win situation.

"On the one hand, it benefits the Kenyan partners," says energy consultant Michael Franz.

"For German companies, they make sales and it will also create German jobs. And by covering the entire region, you create improved access to energy. Since we are talking about renewable energies, it's also about environmental protection and climate change."

It's win-win

Merkel shakes hands with young Kenyans

Angela Merkel visited Kenya this week trying to bolster trade with the African nation

This fits well into the German federal government's new Africa strategy. It emphasizes economic cooperation on an equal footing.

Despite widespread corruption in Kenya, the country is proving itself to be a stable investment partner for considerable energy investments.

Michael Wollny, a solar power entrepreneur with the Kassel-based company SMA is one such investor hoping for good business.

"We see this as a very large future market here in Africa, just because the potential here is huge," he says.

"Here the sun shines 350 days a year, with high intensity. And that fits into the system solutions concept of what we can offer there."

Energy revolution

Potential customers include hotel operators along the Kenyan coast, hoping to lure environment-minded tourists.

A large solar panel was also recently installed at a local SOS Children's Village, a child care initiative.

"We will experience an energy revolution in Kenya over the next three or four years," predicts Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme.

"From geo-thermal energy to the largest wind power plant on the African continent: These examples show that the transition towards a more resource efficient and less environmentally damaging economy is not just something for developed countries, but also for developing countries."

And that could mean even more cooperation with Germany. So far, this cooperation amounts to around 280 million euros worth of imports from Germany each year, but there is plenty of room for this to grow.

Author: Antje Diekhans (sjt)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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