After taking over as the national grid operator from Kenya Power in 2022, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) is moving to build a new national system control centre (NSCC) to replace the ageing one.

The task of the grid operator, also known as system operator, is to determine the mix of electricity that is injected into the national grid and fed to homes and businesses.

The national control centre is where electricity from various generation sources is dispatched to consumers across the country. The dispatch is guided by a merit order that considers various factors such as cost and demand.

The transfer of the role from Kenya Power to Ketraco was one of the key provisions of the Energy Act 2019 and is designed to eliminate any conflict of interest by requiring the system operator to be a neutral player not involved in buying or selling electricity.

Ketraco has now set in motion plans to build a national system control centre in Embakasi, east of Nairobi, from where the agency will remotely monitor the power grid and co-ordinate and match electricity supply and demand in real time, to ensure the system’s safety and reliability.

The project is funded by French development agency, Agence Française de Développement (AFD). The new centre will replace Kenya Power’s national control centre in Juja, on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Ketraco managing director John Mativo told Kawi Hub that they were evaluating bids for the project, with the hope of signing the project’s engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract in June 2024.

“The plan is to have the new NSCC (national system control centre) functional by December 2026,” said Mativo.

Mativo said that while the existing national control centre had over the years undergone upgrades, it is still outdated and thus cannot guarantee quality power system operations for the country, and is prone to suffer “challenges in dispatch of variable renewable energy (wind and solar).”

Kenya is going heavy on developing green energy sources.

“It is imperative to have a new state-of-the-art, spacious and well equipped national system control centre to meet both the current and future power system and customer demands in line with the government and overall stakeholder expectations. NSCC is therefore an extremely priority project,” said Mativo.

The new centre will accommodate new developments in the sector, which has undergone radical transformations over the years including:

  • Kenya’s demand has grown from 550MW in the 1980’s to the current over 2,200MW.
  • The establishment of a regional power pool to enhance and regularise cross-border energy trading, driving the need for long extra high voltage transmission lines, including a direct current line with associated converter sub-stations.
  • The enhanced penetration of intermittent non-dispatchable renewable energy-based generation (wind and solar PV) in addition to the more dispatchable geothermal generation.
  • The continued thinning out of hydro power generation in the overall generation mix that complicates the aspects of system stability and resilience (lower system inertia and diminished spinning reserves).
  • Evolving physical and cyber security challenges including terror related cases.

The NSCC contract would include construction of an emergency/backup control centre to be set up in a “secret, secure location.”

Earlier plans had indicated the backup station, whose role is to provide an alternative power dispatch point in case of failure of the main national control centre, would be in Narok at the Suswa switchyard—Kenya’s main interchange for power from different sources.

Mativo said the existing Kenya Power regional centres will support the NSCC and also be expanded to “see and control” the 33kV distribution grid.

In the new arrangement, Kenya Power has retained the role of signing power purchase agreements (PPAs) with electricity producers, and will continue to be the main retailer selling power to homes and businesses. Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed Kenya Power is 49.9% owned by private investors, with the government holding 50.1%. Its tariffs are regulated due to its dominant market position.

The changes to the sector also provide an opportunity for generation companies to bypass Kenya Power and sell directly to large consumers, while paying Ketraco to wheel the power to the customers.

“They could theoretically go to Ethiopia and negotiate a cheap tariff and then we wheel,” said Mativo.

The new system is expected to be a boon for the state-owned Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), which has expressed interest in supplying power directly to the proposed Olkaria special economic zone that will host factories near geothermal power plants.

The latest changes follow a series of other reforms over the past 26 years.

Until 1998, Kenya Power covered the entire value chain of generation, transmission and distribution, but it lost the mandate to generate power that year when KenGen was formed.

In 2008, Ketraco was hived off from Kenya Power, leaving the latter with just the roles of sourcing power from generators and distributing it.

Ketraco is wholly-owned by the government. Its other roles include constructing and operating high voltage transmission lines (above 132kV). Lower voltage lines below 132kV are operated by Kenya Power. Ketraco charges a wheeling tariff, paid for by consumers through their bills, for electricity transported through its network.