Last week, a steel manufacturing complex owned by Devki was officially commissioned in Kwale County.
The apparent business plan for the factory is to smelt imported iron ore to make steel products using imported coal as heating energy
Heavy industries (steel, cement etc.) require high calorific value fossil fuels (coal, heavy fuel oil, or natural gas) for industrial heating.
It is currently not practical to use renewable energy, which is normally in form of electricity for industrial heating.
Electricity is mostly used to drive industrial machinery.
Our climate advocates will need to appreciate this basic reality and accept that we need coal, heavy fuel oil and natural gas for heavy industries until suitable renewable technologies are developed for heavy industrial heating.
The question asked last week was why the Kwale complex should import coal when coal deposits exist in Kitui County.
And this question equally applies to other heavy industries in Kenya. About eight years ago, there were plans to develop deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone that exist in Kitui to promote steel and cement industries.
The new Mining Cabinet Secretary, Salim Mvurya, will need to focus on these and other critical minerals to support industrialisation and exports.
Kenya needs clear policies on the exploitation of its high-carbon mineral resources (Kitui coal, and Turkana oil) and plots on how to navigate global climate politics and hypocrisy on the production of fossil fuels, considering that even COP27 last week could not clearly commit to a way forward.
Funding for coal and oil production development will indeed be an uphill task, which is why the Kenyan government needs to at least take a definite clear stand and justify commercial funding for Kitui coal.
We should not be importing coal if we can produce it, and the same definitely applies to iron ore.
Kitui coal has unfairly suffered from what I think is misdirected advocacy by foreign-funded climate NGOs. However, the groups were correct in rejecting the Lamu coal power plant which was to use imported coal, and which was bound to crowd out indigenous renewable energy development.
Kitui coal is different in that it will replace imported fossil fuels, which currently have no feasible renewable substitutes for heating unless industries are located adjacent to geothermal wells.
Devki Industries are known for business innovation, and I am sure they will figure out how to commercialise coal, iron ore and limestone deposits in Kitui or elsewhere.