Why the geothermal energy future of Kenya rests with private sector


Olkaria I Additional Unit 6 (Olkaria I AU6) geothermal power stations in Naivasha, Nakuru County on July 26, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

Kenya's Rift Valley has a huge geothermal energy potential and the country is ranked 7th in geothermal generating capacity in the world.

The private sector has a key role to play in efforts to realise this potential and cement the country's position as a geothermal energy producer.

They do not only bring energy security by diversifying projects from the hands of the government, but they also bring innovation, flexibility, financial efficiency and quality assurance, enabling a diverse, robust and thriving geothermal sector.

However, they need government support and collaboration, especially with KenGen and GDC, to effectively make their contribution.

They can bring innovation in a sector that needs technological research and development if we are to continuously reduce the cost of geothermal development.

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For instance, the United States, which is the leading producer in terms of generating capacity in the world, innovations in geothermal have cut the costs of drilling, increased the optimisation of energy output per well, ensured high productivity of low-temperature wells and higher success rates of wells.

In addition, the technologies show promise in delivering geothermal energy fast and at affordable rates of approximately $ 0.04 to 0.05/kWh, according to the U.S. department of energy.

Advanced technology in drilling and exploration technologies like the Millimeter wave (non-contact drilling using laser technology), the use of modern data sets and distributed fibre optic sensing, can be applied in geothermal.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which have been used extensively in the oil and gas industry, could also be used to access geothermal resources that are deeper underground.

Kenya has drilled less than 1,000 wells in both geothermal and oil and gas exploration.

Texas, a state probably the size of Kenya, has drilled over 500,000 wells in geothermal and oil and gas and has a significant rig count. There is also a low rig count in the country.

There is therefore the need to adopt modern drilling rigs, and use software and horizontal drilling techniques to harness steam.

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The local industry needs to go through a learning curve where geothermal wells become cheaper and cheaper after thousands of wells have been drilled.

Adoption of this kind of technology can go a long way in lowering the cost of drilling in Kenya.