Kenya launches biggest geothermal energy plant

Kenya on Monday launched  its biggest investment in geothermal power generation with the  commissioning of a 280 megawatts (MW) plant at Olkaria, Naivasha,  about 100 km west of the capital Nairobi.

The project of nearly 950 million U.S. dollars will be  completed in December 2014, enabling geothermal to contribute 30  percent to the country’s energy mix.

“This project is a tipping point of geothermal generation in  Kenya. It is a stamp that Kenya is serious about geothermal  generation,” Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN)  Managing Director Eddy Njoroge said during the launch.

Kenya is estimated to have geothermal potential of 7,000 MW but  currently produces just above 150 MW or about 13 percent of the  total electricity production.

Geothermal resource for Kenya is located along the Rift Valley,  the Coast region, Homa Hills in Nyanza and Nyambene Mountains in  eastern Kenya. Geothermal generation is seen as the best source of  affordable electricity for Kenya as part of its development blue  print of achieving middle income status by the year 2030.

The new project has been financed by multilateral development  groups including the European Investment Bank, the World Bank,  German development bank KfW, and the Japanese development agency  JICA.

The construction works are also being carried out by different  companies including Greatwall Drilling Company of China, Toyota  Tusho, Synotech Company among others.

The project is expected to place Kenya on the global geothermal  map as it will be the world’s single biggest project in terms of  power output.

It will also bring the country closer to claiming one of the  top positions in terms of global geothermal output now rivalled by  the United States at 3,000 MW and Philippines at 2,000 MW.

Kenya is seeking to generate at least 5,000 MW from its vast  geothermal resource by 2030. KenGen said it will soon start  generation of 65 MW from geothermal using the mobile geothermal  wellhead, a new technology introduced from Iceland.

The company said it currently holds 430 MW of steam ready to be  fed to the mobile geothermal wellheads once the current phase of  pilot study is completed.

The Kenyan government has so far invested 329 million dollars  of its own budget money in the geothermal drilling as part of  efforts to increase generation to displace the expensive thermal  generation.

The investment includes financing to the Geothermal Development  Company (GDC) that has announced 2014 deadline for the completion  of 120 wells expected to help the country produce at least  additional 400 MW of electricity at the current drilling site of  Menengai near Nakuru Town.

“GDC is drilling 120 wells the Menengai Geothermal Project to  provide investors with enough steam for power plants which are  expected to be complete by 2014,” said Dr. Silas Simiyu, the  Managing Director of the state-owned GDC.

GDC was formed in 2009 by the Kenyan government to accelerate  the exploration and drilling of the vast geothermal resource along  Kenya’s Rift Valley to enable the country to increase the pace of  benefiting from cheaper renewable energy.

The company drills the wells until the steam comes out and  rents the steam to private companies who can bring in overhead  generators to tap the steam, generate electricity and connect to  the national grid.

Kenya has feed-in tariffs that encourage investors to  participate in electricity generation projects.

“Our work is to offer investors a risk-free alternative by  providing them with ready steam. All they need to do is to  construct power plants and produce electricity,” said the company.

Kenya has 1,200 MW at peak demand, but which is coming under  further strain from the growing demand of electricity because of  an expanding economy and the rural electrification projects.

A bulk of Kenya’s electricity, or about 65 percent, comes from  hydro sources, whose consistency to operate optimum is restricted  by changing patterns of rainfall because of climate change among  other factors.