Kenya turns to geothermal and wind power in a big way

A Geothermal Plant
 KENYA IS FAST WEANING itself of dependence from hydro-generated electricity to other sources of renewable energy such as wind and geothermal. The shift, which has been in the making for a long time has picked up pace and, in a decade or so, hydro will be an insignificant source of electric generation.

Currently, hydro is the leading source generating a 766.88MW which forms 65 per cent of the KenGen’s installed capacity. KenGen is the power generating utility. Kenya’s generating capacity of 1400MW serves only 14 per cent of the Population. And the power is expensive.

However, the power generating company has firmly shifted its guns and is now targeting renewable sources of energy. It is now focused on developing geothermal and wind power as alternatives sources. 

A wind Power
In its current development programme which ends in 2016, the company will increase its power generating capacity by an additional 1832 MW by 2016.  Of these, Hydro will generate an additional only 53MW while wind power will generate an additional 56.8 MW, geothermal will generate an additional 732MW over the same period. Coal will produce some 600MW while an LNG project to produce 300MW is being studied. Also being studied is another wind farm based in Marsabit County in Northern Kenya that potentially can generate 150MW.

In short, by 2016 Kengen’s 3000MW generating capacity will be dominated by geothermal at 882MW; Hydro at 820 MW; coal 600MW; wind 62 MW. If the Lake Turkana wind farm is added to the grid, Kenya’s wind power capacity will approach 400MW.

Geothermal energy is the natural heat stored within the earth’s crust. The energy is manifested on the earth’s surface in the form of fumaroles, hot springs and hot and altered grounds. To extract this energy, wells are drilled to tap steam and water at high temperatures (250-350°C) and pressures (600-1200 PSI) at depths of 1-3 km. For electricity generation, the steam is piped to a turbine, which rotates a generator to produce electrical energy.

Kenya is the leader in geothermal power generation in Africa having built its first geothermal power in early 1980s. It now generates some 150MW from two geothermal plants. The first plant was the Olkaria I Power Station which was also the first in Africa. The 45 MW plant was commissioned in three phases and has three units each generating 15MW. The first unit was commissioned in June 1981, the second and third units in November 1982 and March 1985.

Olkaria II Power Station, Africa’s largest Geothermal Power Station to date was built in the year 2000 and generates 70MW. It is the second geothermal plant owned and operated by KenGen. The second phase of Olkaria II was commissioned in 2010 injecting an extra 35 MW of power making a total of 150MW of power generated by geothermal means.

Hydro, is becoming an insignificant source because the rivers are not expanding. In fact, the source is unreliable as it relies heavily on rain-fed water to fill the dams. During drought, the water levels shrink forcing the country to revert to expensive thermal power. Such limitations would become a stumbling bloc to economic progress.

So in came geothermal power to the rescue. Although this quantity of geothermal power generated so far makes Kenya the leader in Africa, it is just a drop in the ocean. Kenya’s geothermal potential is estimated at 7000MW, KenGen is preparing to exploit 5000MW of these by 2030. This works to a total of 278MW a year.
Going by the current KenGen’s development plan for the next four years, the goal is achievable. Of the six plants currently under construction, two generating 280MW will be commissioned in 2013, one, eburru, generating 2.5 Mw was commissioned last year and the other three, generating 452.5MW will be commissioned in 2016.
Sources indicate that constructing a 280 MW unit costs US$ 1billion (Kshs 84 billion). To develop 5000 MW will require 18 units which means that KenGen will need quite a neat pile of cash to construction the 18 units. However, with the rapid growth of the Kenyan economy, especially with the growth of Greenfield cities, demand for power will grow.   Further the company is also generating some carbon credit from it clean power developments. It is said to be gunning for at least $13 million annually.

On wind farms KenGen has apparently borrowed a leaf from it competitor in this respect, the Lake Turkana Wind Power project which hope to generate 300MW into the national grid starting next year. Already KenGen has a wind farm in Ngong near Nairobi which generate some 6.8 MW, it is planning to install farm of a similar capacity by April 2013.
In addition, the firm expects to commission another 50MW wind farm in Isiolo to support the growth of the resort city in that town. Further North, KenGen is carrying feasibility studies for a further 150MW wind generated power in Marsabit County.

Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited, KenGen, is the leading electric power generation company in Kenya, producing about 80 percent of electricity consumed in the country. The company utilises various sources to generate electricity ranging from hydro, geothermal, thermal and wind. Hydro is the leading source, with an installed capacity of 766.88MW, which is 64.9 per cent of the company’s installed capacity. It is the leader in the liberalised electric energy sub-sector in the Eastern Africa Region. 
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