Kenya utilising geothermal to decarbonise economic development

OLK02 wellhead plant of GEG at Olkaria in Kenya (source: Green Energy Geothermal)
Alexander Richter Alexander Richter 3 Dec 2018

Utilising its vast geothermal resources, Kenya is decarbonising its electricity sector and also cutting down costs of electricity to households and industry.

The East African Rift is one of the most important areas for current and potential future geothermal energy development. Running from Djibouti to the North through to Mozambique in the south, the African Rift could hold the future for Kenya’s further economic growth, so an article by Les Echos in France today.

It is here, in the middle of the Rift Valley, the fault that runs from Djibouti to Mozambique, that Kenya’s energy future could be played out, thanks to the development of geothermal energy. The region of Olkaria, as the heart of African geothermal ambitions, only around 150 kilometers northeast of the country’s capital Nairobi, saw the first geothermal development in 1984 and could now push development further.

The various geothermal power plants in Olkaria have today an installed geothermal power generation capacity of around 700 MW and supply electricity to the major cities of the country, including Nairobi. The number is expected to double by 2025, so Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen). But this is only the beginning, with no less than 23 other ares with high geothermal potential, including Olkaria and two other areas open to production identified along the Rift Valley by KenGen geologists.

An inexhaustible resource

According to these experts, this “geothermal corridor” of about 400 kilometers covers a resource of up to 10 GW (10,000 MW). This is more than four times the current total electricity generation production capacity of the country (2.3 GW) of which almost one third comes from this renewable energy. This is expected to account for half of the 3.3 GW that Kenya plans to achieve by 2024. At certain times geothermal already represents more than 50% of the electricity production.

The country’s population (50 million) is young and economic growth is strong (GDP increases by 5 to 6% depending on the year). The coverage of the electricity grid started to progress very quickly. Seven out of ten households are connected, compared to two out of ten ten years ago. The country expects a full electrification rate to be reached by 2021. These factors are driving strong demand for electricity.

But why favour geothermal energy? “We are too dependent on hydropower and this poses a real problem with the repetition of droughts,” says Cyrus Karingithi, Head of Resource Development at KenGen. In 2010, two-thirds of Kenya’s electricity came from its dams. This share is today less than 50% and it must fall to 28% in 2024.

Energy from the bowels of the earth is safe from climatic hazards. Geothermal energy is a clean and geothermal electricity generation is cheap after a though costly prospecting development.  It takes $10 million to drill, but you can run several turbines per well,” Cyrus Karingithi says. “Our goal is to reduce the price of electricity for households by 47%  and 37% for the rate paid by industry,” he continues.

Video: Japan helps Kenya build on geothermal energy

A frustrating project

“The initial down payment is 20 to 25 years of debt. On the other hand, its amount does not vary, unlike the fossil resources whose course is unstable, ” pleaded to the French Development Agency (AFD). The funder lent KenGen EUR 87 million to boost the capacity of 280 MW of various sites in Olkaria. An intervention in accordance with the rule set by the French State which is to finance only investments 100% compatible with the Paris agreement.

A very demanding choice and all the more because it is not accepted that the Kenyan authorities really want to put all their eggs in one basket, that of renewable energies. The Lamu coal-fired power plant project on the coast haunts people’s minds. Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s incumbent president, has been supporting the original plant from the start to provide 1,050 MW. But this project comes up against strong local opposition. Work scheduled to start in 2015 to last two years has not been launched. The capacity of this plant could be reduced to 500 MW. Which would give air to a geothermal sector that is still in its infancy.

Source: Les Echos