Kenya Turns to Geothermal Energy for Electricity and Growth

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In an effort to diversify its power supply and meet growing electricity demand, Kenya is looking to increase its use of geothermal energy sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity). Tapping the abundant heat and steam that lurks underground to drive electric power plants offers a sustainable and long-term source of low-cost energy.

Kenya currently gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric projects. This is great until there is a drought, which there now is. With water resources low, the country has had to turn to fossil fuels to power electricity generators. This means relying on imported diesel, which is both expensive and polluting. It is also not generating enough electricity to keep up with demand.

Electricity blackouts have become common in the country and this is harming economic development. This is a particularly damaging setback in a country that has, in the last five years, gained a deserved reputation for its technological advances in mobile phone applications and Internet services – all needing reliable supplies of electricity.

Kenya is Africa’s largest geothermal producer and has geothermal resources concentrated near a giant volcanic crater in the Great Rift Valley with 14 fields reaching from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields in Homa Hills and Massa Mukwe (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191&Itemid=163).

Kenya is expecting its gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 10 per cent from 2012 onwards. The country hopes to become a middle income country by 2030.

Around 1,400 steam wells will be drilled by companies to meet these goals.

There are also many spin-off opportunities from tapping geothermal heat sources. These include using the steam heat for greenhouses growing plants, for cooling and heating buildings, and for drying and pasteurising foods.

Kenya is currently building a 52-megawatt (MW) geothermal project with funding from the United States government. It is also receiving US$149 million funding from the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) to build the Menengai Geothermal Development Project. This plant will be able to generate 400 megawatts of renewable electricity from the Menengai geothermal sources in the steam field located 180 kilometres northwest of the capital, Nairobi (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=49&Itemid=137).

Speaking at a press conference this month, Gabriel Negatu, AfDB’s Regional Director, said he sees geothermal technology as an important driver of Kenya’s green growth ambition.

“Geothermal generation yields energy that is clean, affordable, reliable and scalable,” he said.

The Geothermal Development Company (GDC) (gdc.co.ke) is a state-owned company in Kenya and recently declared it had tapped steam with a well in the Menengai steam field. GDC started surface exploration in 2009 and has been using two drilling rigs to look for geothermal steam.

The Menengai Geothermal Development Project is slated to be completed by 2016 and will boost the country’s geothermal capability by 20 per cent. It is estimated to be able to power the electricity needs of 500,000 Kenyan households and power the needs of 300,000 small businesses.

Geothermal as a source of energy and electricity can help a country make big development gains. The best example is the Northern European island nation of Iceland. According to Orkustofnun (nea.is/geothermal), Iceland’s National Energy Authority, the country is a successful example of how a small, poor nation (Iceland was one of Europe’s poorest countries in the 20th century), shook off its dependence on burning peat and importing coal for its energy use. By 2007, Iceland was listed in the global Human Development Report as the country with the highest level of human development in the world. And one aspect of this success was the country’s ability to tap its renewable energy resources. Around 84 per cent of the country’s primary energy use comes from renewable resources, and 66 per cent of this is geothermal.

It is estimated Kenya could generate 7,000 megawatts of geothermal power and the Kenyan government is looking to increase the nation’s geothermal capacity from the current 198 MW to 1,700 MW by 2020 and 5,530 MW by 2031.

Resources

1) Home geothermal: A feature from Popular Mechanics on how geothermal can work in the home. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/hydropowergeothermal/4331401

2) Geothermal Energy Systems: A South African company specialising in setting up geothermal systems for customers. Website: http://www.africanecosystems.co.za/about%20us.html

3) Geothermal Education Office: The basic on tapping this energy source and how it works. Website: http://geothermal.marin.org/pwrheat.html

4) Menengai Geothermal Development Project: A detailed explanation of the project. Website: http://www.climateinvestmentfunds.org/cif/sites/climateinvestmentfunds.org/files/SREP%205%20Kenya%20Project.pdf

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