Photo from Power Africa.

The Significance Of The US-Kenya Climate & Clean Energy Industrial Partnership

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Everyone is talking about the potential for clean energy development in Africa, including the US. Instead of focusing narrowly on promoting government-sponsored projects that pile up burdensome debts, though, the US and Kenya have just announced agreement on an intricate series of initiatives including risk management, STEM education, women’s energy entrepreneurship, and other elements of a long term platform for a rapid and economically beneficial transition to clean energy.

The US-Kenya Climate & Clean Energy Industrial Partnership: Why?

If you’re wondering why Kenya, that’s a good question. The White House hosted a state dinner for Kenyan President William Ruto last week. That’s the first time such an event has occurred since 2003, when the US and Kenya began launched a long term collaboration on AIDS.

For that matter, the last time any African head of state received a White House state dinner was back in 2008, Associated Press notes.

Nevertheless, last week’s dinner invitation did not come up out of the blue. The US recognized the nation of Kenya upon its independence from the UK in 1963, and the two nations established formal diplomatic ties in 1964. Sixty years later, in October of 2023, the US Department of State posted an update of ongoing strategic trade and investment negotiations between the two countries.

“Kenya has East Africa’s most dynamic economy and is a growing regional business and financial hub,” the State Department noted.

“In 2018, the United States and Kenya formally elevated the relationship to a strategic partnership and established a corresponding bilateral strategic dialogue,” the State Department added. “The dialogue prioritizes five pillars of engagement: economic prosperity, trade, and investment; defense cooperation; democracy, governance, and civilian security; multilateral and regional issues; and public health cooperation.”

Last week’s state dinner marked the successful conclusion of the negotiations under the title, “The U.S.-Kenya Climate And Clean Energy Industrial Partnership.” Among the agreement’s long list of commitments are measures aimed at fostering a rapid, efficient transition to clean energy in Kenya, and supporting follow-on effects throughout Africa as well.

With Russia, China, and the EU also jockeying for strategic positions in Africa — based partly on access to critical minerals — it’s also worth noting that the White House and Kenya also concluded a separate series of negotiations last week, culminating in President Joe Biden notifying Congress of his intent to designate Kenya a “Major Non-NATO Ally.” This is the first such relationship between the US and a sub-Saharan nation.

“Kenya is one of the United States Government’s top counterterrorism and security partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and the designation will demonstrate that the United States sees African contributions to global peace and security as equivalent to those of our Major Non-NATO Allies in other regions,” President Biden explained.

Financing The Clean Energy Transition In Kenya

Accelerating the energy transition is a particular challenge for communities with limited or no access to clean energy.  In that regard, CleanTechnica contributor Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been drawing attention to the transformative power of clean energy development in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (see our complete Africa archive here).

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the commitments in the new US-Kenya Climate and Clean Energy Industrial partnership.

The Biden administration notes that the new partnership elevates “climate action and green industrialization as a critical pillar” of US-Kenya relations. “We also signaled our intent to implement a new green growth framework throughout Africa,” the White House notes.

That pan-African angle remains to be seen, but a big attention-getter is the partnership’s focus on collaborating with the international financial community to deploy development banks and climate funds, with the aim of lowering the cost of new clean energy projects. The US commitment includes part of the $568 million in catalytic financing that the US provided to the Clean Technology Fund last year.

Clean energy financing is just one element of a broader debt relief advocacy plan expressed in the partnership’s “Nairobi-Washington Initiative.” That’s an attractive contrast with the “debt-trap diplomacy” attributed to China. In addition, the financial angle may also attract African leaders seeking pathways for avoiding political upheaval linked to Russia.

Clean Energy Transition At The Grassroots Level & Beyond

As for boot-on-the-ground initiatives, the partnership includes a $3.6 million commitment to help individual ratepayers in Kenya connect to clean electricity through the Empowering East and Central Africa program of the Power Africa initiative, along with a $300,000 commitment to support gender equity and women entrepreneurs in the clean energy sector.

Another grassroots-oriented element is a $60 million, 4-year grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, aimed at improving public transportation access and transportation safety, particularly for women.

On the industrial level, the partnership includes a $10 million direct loan to the Kenyan electric bus company BasiGo and a $10 million loan to the Kenyan electric motorcycle company Roam Electric, through DFC (the US International Development Finance Corporation). DFC also recently provided a $10 million loan to Mogo Auto Kenya to support President Ruto’s Africa Green Industrialization Initiative. MAK is deploying the funds to make financing more affordable for electric car and motorcycle buyers.

“The U.S. Department of State also announced $100,000 for technical assistance to support accelerating the transition to zero-emissions vehicles in Kenya, including through policy development and implementation, capacity building and peer-to-peer learning, and workforce development,” the White House notes.

What’s In It For The US?

The bilateral partnership is not a one-way street. One example is Virunga Power, which the White House describes as “a U.S. company.” Virunga is a Power Africa partner with $100 million worth of hydropower projects in the works in Kenya over the next five years, totaling 31 megawatts. The company specializes in rural electrification and run-of-the-river projects that minimize infrastructure (if anyone out there can confirm that US connection, drop us a note in the comment thread).

The partnership’s focus on geothermal energy in Kenya also opens up some opportunities for the US geothermal industry. The US geothermal industry is only just waking up from a decades-long slumber, with just a handful of commercial facilities currently in operation. However, throughout the years the US Department of Energy has been supporting the domestic geothermal industry as an exporter of new geothermal technology to other nations. All that hard work is finally beginning to pay off with new geothermal projects here in the US as well as a strong position on technology exports (see more geothermal news here).

New science collaborations and youth STEM education programs also take up a significant amount of space in the new partnership. CleanTechnica is especially interested to see how those programs connect with the clean cookstoves movement in terms of youth engagement and habitat conservation, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Photo (cropped): “A solar array powering a mini-grid serving more than 300 households in Kisii County, Kenya (credit: Power Africa).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3350 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey