Improving Energy Efficiency in the Tea Sector

Energy audits in Kenya helped to save USD 13.5 million in energy costs, 1.3 million trees and 10,000 tons of CO2

Cut-tear-curl machines on one of the Kenyan Tea Development Agency factories

Tea cultivation, processing and marketing is a major economic activity in Kenya. The sector employs more than 600,000 smallholder farmers, supporting more than three million people directly and indirectly. Sales contribute substantially to Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings. Thanks to effective management services of the Kenyan Tea Development Agency and other players in Kenya’s tea subsector, the country is now ranked number three in black cut-tear-curl tea production in the world and is the biggest exporter of it.

Tea production and processing is energy intensive. To produce one kilogram of tea one needs approximately 3‐6 kWh of thermal energy — supplied mainly from wood combustion — and 0.2‐0.5 kWh of electrical energy from the grid and diesel generators. About 12‐15% of total energy required in tea manufacturing is electrical while thermal energy accounts for over 80%.

A closer look at energy consumption

In 2014 the Sustainable Energy for Food-Powering Agriculture Programme started working on energy audits with the Ethical Tea Partnership, Taylor’s of Harrogate, Mars Drinks and the Kenyan Tea Development Agency. This was the first time that total energy consumption in Kenya’s tea factories was analysed and it found that energy costs were enormous.

At the same time, Kenya started enforcing energy management regulations that require factories using more than 180,000 KWh to audit their energy consumption, adding legal obligations to good economic reasons to look into the energy saving potential.

Since then the Kenyan Tea Development Agency has established its own energy department and GIZ has helped to build up internal capacities, such as training of energy auditors and factory employees on carbon foot printing. The entire activity was financed by a Public Private Partnership (iEPW), i.e. 50% of the budget was provided by the private sector, indicating how serious business takes the energy issue.

In 2019, there was another iEPW to expand the work to all 69 factories of the Kenyan Tea Development Agency. This includes training but also replacing machine parts such as fans and dryers with more efficient technology, installing energy monitoring systems and considering how to switch to more climate-friendly and cost-effective renewable energy sources.

“The results are impressive, especially since the project’s expenses were low by all means. Most of our staff time was spent on compiling data and checking output.” says Lucie Pluschke, who is heading the project. “Now we’re in the fortunate position that we can explain well how we came to these results.”

“The measures that the project helped introducing can also be adopted in other countries and we are doing this already in Rwanda, Malawi, China, Sri Lanka and Indonesia,” adds Lucie.

Capacity building

Capacity building is another critical component of the project. It has resulted in substantial improvements in the various operational steps of the tea processing. In 2019, 200 mechanics, boiler operators and electricians of the Kenyan Tea Development Agency were trained on energy issues affecting tea processing in the factories. Moreover, selected managers participated in the study tours to other tea producing countries.

In 2019 a mentoring programme focused attention on to 14 factories that had been performing worst in terms of fuelwood and electricity consumption. Impressively, the measures taken subsequently helped to save more than USD 42,000 in energy costs and nearly 12,000 trees.

By 2019, these measures had resulted in around USD 13.5 million in energy cost savings, prevented the deforestation of 1.3 million trees and saved around 10,000 tons of CO2.

More on the savings potential

On average, individual tea factories spend approximately 30 to 65 million Kenyan Shillings annually on electricity, depending on the factory size, crop level and the variable costs such as fuel cost adjustment and forex that are used by Kenya Power in the calculation of electricity bills. One aspect of the energy efficiency programme is energy auditing of the Kenyan Tea Development Agency factories.

An energy audit is the procedure by means of which it is possible to analyze the energy balance of a system in order to define possible improvements of its energy efficiency, to achieve the mitigation of its environmental impact and to reduce energy costs.

Continuous energy audit and process tracking of industrial operations and machinery is essential for reduction in energy consumption for sustainable and energy efficient manufacturing. In general, an energy audit should follow the following procedure:

  • Carrying out  a complete energy analysis of the system.
  • Identifying energy wastes.
  • Defining retrofitting plans needed to reduce consumption
  • Implementating a systematic plan for energy saving projects and monitoring the results.

Up to date, interventions have led to average reduction of energy consumptions of the factories from 35.21 to 29.76 mega joules for each kilo of processed tea. This has not only brought financial benefit to the factories and the farmers but has also led to a significant contribution to environmental conservation.


Macben Makenzi, Sustainable Energy for Food-Powering Agriculture Programme,