A new kind of building dotting Kenya's skyline

UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon (third left) and Kenya President Mwai Kibaki (fourth left) on March 31,2011 at the official opening of the new UNEP and UN - Habitat office Nairobi that uses green energy principles. Kenya is leading the charge to use green energy. WILLIAM OERI | AFRICA REVIEW 

Inside the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) headquarters, an isolated gold-coloured facility could be the answer to Kenya’s quest to develop green buildings. The building is entirely powered by solar power and has water collection and recycling facilities.

Across the other side of the city, in the Nairobi financial district of Upper Hill, KCB, a regional bank headquartered in the country, is also in a race to finish its high rise and aptly-coloured green building that will pioneer the development of such buildings by the private sector.

Effectively, the two buildings will form a case study not only for Kenya but Africa where the urgency to have green buildings that are powered by renewable energy or are efficient energy users is vital due to problems associated with national electricity grids.

The buildings will also make it easier for organisations like the much-maligned Nairobi City Council to practically learn how office buildings can be used to harvest rain water and about the water recycling systems they can use.

The council has for long been planning to pass a by-law that compels all buildings within its jurisdiction to have water harvesting facilities. The tragedy is that in Nairobi neither the commercial or residential buildings have water harvesting facilities.

Major impact

Such facilities would make a major impact in access to water especially in the capital's residential areas where supply is currently rationed because the water available cannot meet the demand.

"If our growing population is going to survive on this planet, we need smart designs that maximise resources, minimise waste and serve people and communities,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon when he opened the Gigiri-based building recently.

The UN announced that it has started a project with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to finance the construction of green buildings in East Africa.
The UNEP facility, which will also house sister agency UN Habitat in Nairobi, was designed by Kenyan architects and constructed by Kenyan engineers meaning that there is adequate human resource to develop such buildings in the country.

Ms Judy Odhiambo of KCB shows a model of the firm's new $25m green building under construction. FREDRICK ONYANGO

The complex is powered by solar panels covering 6000 square metres that produce 750,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Its lighting system is developed in such a way that natural lighting is used adequately. It will harvest 75 million litres of rainwater every year.

The cost of installing the solar panels will be recovered in seven to eight years, said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. This revelation helps in the ongoing debate about the return on investment for solar power projects.

Part of the data available indicate that it takes up to 15 years to get a return on investments when using solar power based on earlier research by Kenya Association of Manufacturers but this statistic is disputed in other quarters.

No financing

“Return on investment on solar is adequate and makes sense, what is lacking is the financing,” said Mr Steiner. In Kenya, the challenge for renewable energy investors has been how to access financing because of an earlier existing challenge in banks of not having expertise to profile risks in such loan products.

However, the situation is slowly changing following efforts by the International Finance Corporation and the European Investments Bank that are engaging the Kenyan banks to improve the capability of their renewable energy financing products development and also proving seed money that banks can use for onward lending to such projects.

For KCB, it will be a first for corporates. Although details are scant, the building in Upper Hill is being financed by the bank’s two pension funds, the KCB Staff Pension Fund and the KCB Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme.

The complex is a 21 storey and will cost Sh2.1 billion ($25 million) to be completed by January 2013. “The complex will adopt green architecture that complies with the globally accepted standards of green buildings,” said KCB Chairman Peter Muthoka in earlier interview.

The building is designed to use natural light, has facilities for recycling of waste water, and incorporates mechanisms for efficient energy consumption. These include solar installations, use of smart technology to manage consumption of energy and water resources, a rain water harvesting system and use of open space office plans for effective air circulation without the need for air conditioners.

In the lead

The two buildings will add to the efforts by Kenya to be the front runner in green energy and efficient energy use in the continent. The government’s green agenda has already seen the utility firm Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) introduce one million energy saving bulbs into Kenyan homes, which helped save 60MW of electrify and earned the company Sh100 million ($1.2 million) from the global carbon market.

Other gains have been in the ongoing enhanced exploration of geothermal energy, a proposal to set up a carbon credits market platform and the reforestation of Mau and Aberdare forests among others.

UN said the success of developing the Nairobi complex will be replicated within all other UN complexes in the world, with its New York headquarters currently being renovated to become the world’s “cleanest office.”

“We would like to see that this idea and concept is not only replicated by the UN system but also by the private and the public sector across the world,” said Mr Steiner. “Our experience has showed that private public partnerships for such projects are vital.”

First published in our sister publication the Business Daily (www,businessdailyafrica.com)

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