Proposal to make SGR electric timely
The idea of making Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) electric as proposed by the World Bank is a timely one and relevant government agencies ought to start feasibility studies on how to make this happen.
Kenya has vast amounts of geothermal potential and, as such, has what it takes to supply affordable power to Kenya Railways Corporation.
Were this to be done, two things will happen. First, use of electricity generated locally will reduce reliance on imported diesel. This will save Kenya millions of shillings annually in fuel imports.
Secondly, geothermal power is the greenest source of energy. Using it to power SGR will, therefore, make Kenya a global leader in harnessing geothermal to power its transport sector.
Once success is assured with SGR, there is no reason why this cannot be extended to other train services, including the commuter trains that serve Nairobi and adjoining areas, such as Githurai, Eastlands and Limuru.
Compared to countries like South Africa, consumption of electricity in Kenya is very low. This makes it difficult for Kenya to compete economically with South Africa on both energy production and consumption, the twins that literally power economic growth.
Similarly, Tanzania has often expressed its intention to build an electric railway line while Ethiopia has already done so. Kenya, therefore, cannot afford to be left behind given that it has historically positioned itself as the gateway to the East African Community and region’s economic powerhouse. As such, it cannot be seen to be relying on fossil fuels when its neighbours have gone electric.
That using geothermal will also reduce carbon emissions goes without saying, making this switch a no-brainer for any forward-thinking government. This is especially important now that Kenya has a partnership with Germany, which has offered to supply KenGen with equipment that will drastically reduce the time it takes to drill geothermal wells. But for this partnership to make sense, there must be a demand side, and the lowest hanging fruit in this regard is the SGR.
If it proves successful, then it can serve as a template for other players in the transport sector to follow suit.