Kenya targets green energy with increased investments in geothermal production
Posted Wednesday, August 8 2012 at 21:18
Olkaria, the picturesque volcanic masterpiece in the heart of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, holds an energy capacity estimated at about 1,500 megawatts.
Kenya is hinging its energy security on this roughly 80-square kilometre field that would easily pass for tourist site as it sits within Hell’s Gate National Park, six kilometres to the south of Lake Naivasha.
The characteristic odour of rotten eggs wafting along the cool lake breeze welcomes you to Africa’s prime geothermal field currently producing 198 megawatts of power – accounting for about 13 per cent of Kenya’s total installed electricity capacity.
The government says it wants to tilt Kenya’s current energy mix which is heavily reliant on hydro power in favour of steam energy which is not affected by extreme climatic conditions such as drought and floods.
Hydro-power generation is considered susceptible to the vagaries of weather hence irregular availability.
Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi has smelled the hydrogen sulphide emitted by the geothermal power plants and now wants to more than double the country’s steam power output to 478 megawatts by September 2014.
“In the short term our focus remains sharply trained on geothermal generation which we have identified as the most feasible base-load source,” says Mr Murungi.
Listed power producer Kenya Electricity Generating Company last month began construction of four power plants at Olkaria I and Olkaria IV unit to generate 280 megawatts at a cost of Sh109.5 billion ($1.3 billion) —the continent’s biggest underground steam power project.
The undertaking will increase the proportion of geothermal source power in the national energy basket to 32 per cent in two years’ time with the ultimate target of 49 per cent by the year 2030.
“This is critical in having sufficient supply that will stay ahead of growing demand as more and more customers get connected and existing ones demand more power,” said Eddy Njoroge, the managing director of KenGen.
Data from the national electricity retailer Kenya Power shows that the country’s peak power demand — the highest point in energy consumption recorded — has grown 57 per cent in the last decade from 760 megawatts in 2002 to 1,194 megawatts recorded in the year 2011.
The drive towards steam power is based on its key characteristic of being firm, as it guarantees availability of up to 95 per cent, which is necessary to stabilise power supply in Kenya.
A study by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co shows that geothermal, despite carrying a high capital cost, is the cheapest and most sustainable energy option for Kenya.
The report says generating steam power costs Sh5.38 (6.4 US cents), half the price of hydro-power which costs Sh10.50 (¢12.5) per kilowatt hour.