Nairobi firm eyes Lake Victoria weed for electricity production

Fishermen attempt to navigate through a blanket of hyacinth in Lake Victoria. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Fishermen attempt to navigate through a blanket of hyacinth in Lake Victoria. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s quest to convert fish-threatening hyacinth weed in Lake Victoria into an electricity producing material has gained momentum with a Nairobi-based company being the latest to enter the venture.

Homa Bay Biogas One Ltd, Thursday expressed interest to construct a power plant in Homa Bay County to generate eight megawatts (MW) of electricity using the sea weed.

The biogas produced from fermenting the hyacinth will be combusted to produce electricity, which will be fed into the national grid.

“The company will undertake operation of an 8MW biogas power plant at Kobala in Homa Bay County for generation of electricity by utilising parasitic water hyacinth overgrowing Lake Victoria,” the company said in a notice meant to get views from members of the public.

The company said, after getting the public feedback, it proceed to apply for a power generation licence on November 23 from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

It joins other energy firms that are developing or planning to build hyacinth-fired power plants in the lakeside town.

These include London-based Equinox Energy Capital, which is putting up a 35-megawatt plant and Thika Way Investments (35 megawatts).
Thika Way said in its 2015 regulatory filings that the power plant will also produce cooking gas and fertiliser.

Similar projects to fight the water hyacinth problem have been successfully implemented in South Asia and South America.

Water hyacinth started encroaching on Lake Victoria in the 1980s and has since spread rapidly to choke the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, making fishing difficult.

It grows in dense mats covering the water surface and starves water of oxygen, which means fish cannot thrive.

It also makes boat navigation difficult. Mechanical control has proved expensive, while it is feared that chemical control would have adverse effects on living sea creatures like fish.

The biogas plants are the latest in a recent string of private investments in power production from renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro and geothermal.