Kenya will soon be getting its first flywheel storage project. The system, commissioned by Socabelec East Africa, is intended to support a microgrid serving a community of 5,000 people in Marsabit, the capital of the Kenyan county of the same name.

Currently, the electricity supply for the village comes from diesel generators and two 275-kilowatt wind turbines. ABB’s 500-kilowatt PowerStore stabilization system will be integrated into the grid and function with the existing diesel power station controls. The company says its system will stabilize the grid, enable any excess wind energy generated to be used, and allow for the addition of further renewable energy sources.

The Kenyan government has promised that the majority of the population will have access to domestic electricity by 2020. But achieving that could be an uphill struggle for a variety of reasons, including because of how many people don't have access to reliable electricity. According to the World Bank, three-quarters of Kenyans are disconnected from the grid.

Another challenge is a reliance on costly imported fuel to provide conventionally generated electrical power, in addition to its own indigenous hydroelectric and geothermal resources. The Kenyan government has recently secured funding from the World Bank to help address the first problem by expanding access to the grid. Reducing the need for fuel imports is clearly a job that solar and wind power could assist with, especially if some promised mega-projects come to fruition.

There have been a number of false starts for renewables in the country -- the biggest being the long-delayed 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind project. But in June this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta finally broke ground on the project. It’s not only slated to be Africa’s largest wind-power project, but also the continent’s biggest single private-sector initiative, costing $700 million. It's now scheduled for completion in 2018.

Thanks to the public commitment to electrification and the promise of more renewables, a recent study carried out for the German government concluded that Kenya was ripe for development as an energy storage market – particularly if the country’s isolated rural communities are to be served by local microgrids.

This report from the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ) was based on German batteries, but it seems ABB’s PowerStore technology beat them there.

ABB says its other flywheel deployments in isolated microgrid scenarios have already proven the value of PowerStore in reducing reliance on diesel -- even in tough, rugged environments such as Marsabit, situated at the desert’s edge.

GTM Research analyst Ravi Manghani agrees that flywheels make sense in this sort of environment: “Remote microgrids are -- relatively speaking -- good applications for flywheels especially if they can rely on other techs such as diesel, other forms of storage (electrochemical including batteries and fuel cells), or renewables like solar and wind."

When used for hybrid applications, flywheels can provide near instantaneous power to bridge other resources. They also have long lives that can keep costs lower in remote areas.

ABB’s Marsabit project is due to be completed in 2016. Another project in Kenya, planned in 2014, includes 100-kilowatt of advanced lead-acid energy storage from Princeton Power.

Mature lead-acid batteries seem to be an obvious solution for developing economies such as Kenya’s. But as both the GIZ report and Manghani pointed out, proper disposal of lead-acid batteries can be a nightmare, leading to the possibility of severe contamination of the environment and even deadly poisoning of individuals. The advent of ever-cheaper lithium-ion batteries may, of course, sideline that technology entirely.

GIZ Project Manager Stefanie Werler identified a number of areas where energy storage could gain traction in Kenya.

The first is telecommunications -- specifically base stations that are currently reliant on diesel generation. The case for replacing diesel with solar-plus-storage is compelling. The manufacturing sector could also be an early adopter of storage, as it relies heavily on a steady electricity supply to avoid production losses.

The next is tourism. Safaris and other opportunities to experience the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Africa are very important to the Kenyan economy. Energy storage would help ensure that visitors to remote lodges can satisfy their call of the wild, while still enjoying one of the key conveniences of home. Moreover, coupling renewables with energy storage to supply reliable power will appear much more in tune with nature than diesel generation.

Werler also cites mining as a key area where energy storage could be of use. Remote mining operations also rely on a steady supply of diesel, which can be drastically reduced with the integration of renewables and energy storage in their microgrid, as has already been demonstrated in several locations.