Kenya: Govt Steps Up Geothermal Power
3 October 2012
Kenya has inaugurated Africa's biggest geothermal power project in a bid
to meet its growing need for electricity and lower its consumption of
The 280 megawatt (MW) Olkaria Geothermal Project was commissioned by
Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, in July. It is being built at a cost of
82.5 billion Kenyan shillings ($980 million) and is due for completion in
Experts say that it should be an important source of "green" energy in a
country that has seen its hydropower production hit by worsening drought.
The project "will be an effective source for power for Kenya in the sense
that it will help the country manage its competitiveness in the region and
in global markets, especially for agro-based industries that for many
years have suffered from costly, inefficient and unreliable power," said
Chris Ackello Ogutu, an agricultural economist at the University of
If farmers get access to cheaper and more reliable geothermal energy to
help process their crops, "then their vulnerability to climate
change-related stresses (will) diminish," he said.
Drilling of steam wells for the new facility has already taken place, and
these will generate power even before the permanent geothermal plant has
been put in place, officials say.
The new plant in particular will help Kenya reduce its heavy reliance on
hydroelectricity, which is an increasingly uncertain energy source as
rainfall becomes more erratic, a situation that experts believe is related
to climate change.
Two geothermal units, each with an output capacity of 140 MW of
electricity, will make up the new plant at the Olkaria Complex, some 80 km
(50 miles) northwest of Nairobi, Kenya's capital.
Two other geothermal plants constructed in the 1980s and 1990s are already
in operation at the complex, which was Africa's first geothermal project.
The new plant will be Africa's largest and will almost triple Olkaria's
capacity to 430 MW.
The project is being funded by the Government of Kenya, the Kenya
Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), the World Bank, European
Investment Bank, and the development agencies of France, Germany and
The geothermal project is expected to boost current Kenya's power output
of 1,588 MW by 18 percent, according to Eddy Njoroge, managing director of
the Kenya Electricity Generating Company. The company is Kenya's leading
power generator, producing nearly 80 percent of the country's electricity.
80 PERCENT GREEN POWER
Njoroge adds that the project will increase the proportion of KenGen's
electricity derived from green sources to more than 80 percent. (The
remainder comes from nonrenewable sources such as diesel generators.)
Geothermal power will contribute more than one third of this green energy.
The new project is one of several aimed at increasing the capacity of the
national grid by as much as 140 percent over five years to help meet
growth in demand. By 2030, the government plans to raise power output to
15,000 MW, from a current 1,500 MW.
"We have plans that in five years' time we will be in a position to
contribute more than 50 percent of our total electricity capacity (from
geothermal power) so that the country can avoid expensive modes of
generation," Njoroge said.
Experts believe the Olkaria Complex could produce additional geothermal
power beyond that now being tapped.
According to field optimization studies conducted by Mannvit Consortium of
Iceland, the complex is capable of producing an additional 560 MW of
power. Current estimates place Kenya's total geothermal potential at 7,000
Nashon Adero, a policy analyst with the Kenya Institute for Public Policy
Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), said the project is one of many green
energy initiatives being promoted as part of the government's Least Cost
Power Development Plan, which looks ahead as far as 2031.
"Geothermal is seen as the preferred power generation for Kenya because
its operation costs are less than other modes of power generation, and in
the long run (it) can help the country achieve a reduction in unit cost of
power by 50 percent," he said.
Geothermal power is less expensive than hydropower, he said, and will also
significantly help reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions from
fossil fuel power generation.
Emissions from geothermal power generation are just 10 percent of those
from oil-based power generation, Adero said.
He said Kenya's Great Rift Valley gives the country a competitive
advantages in that it offers suitable geological conditions for harvesting
heat from the earth's crust to generate electricity.
"Even though sources of renewable energy in such countries as Ghana and
the Democratic Republic of Congo are significant, these are mainly
hydropower based," he said.
But Kenya lags behind other African countries in terms of per capita power
availability, figures show. Kenya's power availability, for instance, is
less than half that of Ghana, according to the Kenya Economic Report of
2010, compiled by KIPRA.
And improving power generation alone will not improve the country's
economic prospects, Ogutu warned.
"Policy issues remain problematic and labour costs have tended to make
Kenyan products a lot more expensive than they ought to be," he said.
One of the challenges facing the project has been the relocation of people
to pave way for construction. About 270 homeowners are affected by the
plans, and they will be resettled on a 690-hectare (1,700 acres) parcel of
land on which 164 houses are being constructed. Churches, a school and
teachers' accommodation, a library, and a cattle dip and watering trough
will also be built by KenGen.
"We hope to have put the necessary infrastructure in place as well as
completed the resettlement of families by next year in February," said
Geoffrey Kamadi is a freelance Kenyan journalist based in Nairobi. He has
written widely on science and health issues for local newspapers as well
as online publications.
Read more at AlertNet Climate, the Thomson Reuters Foundation's daily news
website on the human impacts of climate change.
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