Shortage of engineers delays geothermal power roll-out
Posted Tuesday, October 19 2010 at 00:00
Shortage of skilled labour is slowing down efforts to increase the share of cheaper geothermal power to Kenya’s electricity grid.
Geothermal Development Company’s (GDC) reckons that they lack adequate geothermal engineers to support their plans, prompting the state owned firm to turn to expensive expatriate staffs that are eating into the firm’s exploration budget.
“The real cost of drilling is in the cost of hiring people,” said Silas Simiyu, the managing director of GDC.
To drill the holes the company uses rigs operated by expatriates from China and their labour and upkeep costs is bleeding the GDC money, says Mr Simiyu.
At present, GDC has 40 geothermal engineers and recently recruited 100 more engineers, 40 of whom have been taken for further training in China.
He failed to give figures on the firm’s wage bill and the number of staff the company needs to meet its drilling schedule.
Expatriates, who are working on the rigs, work in two 30-day shifts and they have to be flown in from China and their airfare and per diems is one of the largest cost items facing GDC.
This means that GDC will find it harder to meet its target of installing 200 MW per year during the next 10 years and another 2,000 MW in the following decade, aiming at installing 4,000 MW by 2030, a move that will deny Kenya cheap and cleaner energy as it will be forced to tap deeper into the weather dependent hydro power and expensive thermal power.
Figures from the Energy ministry indicate that geothermal power can be delivered to consumers at less than Sh4.20 per kilowatt hour, which is much lower than the Sh15 per kilowatt hour that power users are now paying.
GDC was established by the government to explore sites that are suitable for geothermal power generation and for drilling wells.
These were to be allocated to private investors who were to build power plants in an effort to rev-up geothermal power generation.
The high explorations costs discouraged private investors from geothermal power generation with a significant number opting for the expensive thermal type due to its low set up costs.
Kenya’s geothermal potential is estimated at 7,000 MW, according to the government.
The slow pace of developing geothermal wells has, however, seen Kenya depend largely on hydro electricity that is vulnerable to rain patterns.
To cut these costs the GDC is planning to invest in Kenyan workers that can operate the drilling rigs.