Kenya?s promising wind energy

Kenya could soon tap more into its huge wind energy potential if ongoing feasibility studies turn out successful. All then seems set fair for a multimillion dollar infrastructure spending spree in wind power in the region.

These prospects are already attracting some of the world’s most powerful corporations as the renewal energy sector gets more prominence globally.

Among the firms involved in the studies are Vestas and also General Electric, a leading global player in the energy infrastructure sector. Country chief executive George Ndegwa said the firm GE was evaluating proposals from wind farm developers, collecting data and formulating projects.

“Kenya boasts of good regimes and the best areas to site a wind power plant include Malindi, Lamu, Marsabit, Isiolo, Ngong and parts of the Rift Valley,” Mr Ndegwa said.

Statistics from the Kenya Power and Lighting Company indicate that wind energy constitutes about 20 per cent of the 1,699 Megawatts additional power that Kenya is working towards injecting into the national grid, over the next five years.

The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project is the largest of the three wind farm plants that are expected to roar into life in the next two years, churning out 365 Megawatts of electricity.

Already, studies on Lake Turkana have been completed and the process of finalising a financing mechanism has begun, to pave the way for the construction of the first phase of the wind turbines project.

The chairman of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project Carlo van Wageningen said Kenya has unique wind resources.

“The amount of energy that can be generated from one wind turbine is double what can be produced from a similar wind turbine in Europe,” said Mr van Wageningen.

The agreed upon tariffs between the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project and KPLC for the power that will be generated is 43 per cent cheaper than the current average cost of power mix from other generators.

The other wind power projects are a 15-megawatt plant by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (Kengen) in Ngong and a 50-megawatt wind farm by Aeolus in Kinangop.

Recently, Gitson Energy, which had not been factored into earlier projections for future energy generation, announced it had secured funding for a 300 megawatt wind turbines project

But despite the interest in wind power, experts say that like other forms of renewable energy, it is not necessarily more economical and cheaper to generate than hydropower that is widely used in East Africa.

“But in the long term unit cost will become cheap,” said Mr Ndegwa. The high cost of initial capital goes into preliminary studies, installations and regular maintenance of the wind farm plants.

In order to gauge possible energy yields, measurements of wind speeds, turbulence and humidity levels are collected over periods of up to three years, at heights of over 40 metres.

The General Electric Energy boss said that while the Meteorological Department collects data on the wind, it is not sufficient to assess the potential and make an investment decision since it is confined to the low heights of its masts between 10 and 20 metres, hence the need for further studies.

Other considerations that are made before setting up wind farm plants are proximity to settlements — since the noise levels could disturb people if situated near residential areas — and its impact on migratory birds, which could be killed by the blades of the wind turbines.

Among the government strategies in place to encourage investment in the sector are reviewing feed in tariffs defined in stable currencies such as the US dollar, and establishing transmission lines.

Mr Ndegwa said this will attract international investors since risks are minimised. Apart from South Africa, only Kenya has a feed in tariffs for the various forms of renewable energy projects.

The reviewed tariffs offer 12 US cents for every unit of electricity from wind turbines of up to 50 Megawatts. The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Ltd has also announced plans to construct a transmission line stretching from Marsabit through Lake Turkana, Suswa to Isinya.

By Cosmas Butunyi,