Kenya is getting ready to spend $1.3 billion on geothermal energy development. While the country has more than 22 years of experience using the Earth’s natural heat to generate technology, this new project is expected to produce 280 megawatts from four separate geothermal generators each capable of pumping out 70 megawatts.
A joint venture between Kenya Electricity Generating Company and engineering firm Sinclair Knight Merz, the construction will require drilling into subterranean hot springs in order to direct steam to turn turbines. This is a bold break away from Kenya’s most plentiful source of electrical power: hydroelectric dams. Less than a quarter of its energy comes from oil-burning plants. Geothermal looks like the next area for rapid expansion, right now accounting for like 9 percent of the country’s power mix.
When it comes to energy development in Kenya, it’s not just a question of where it comes from — it’s also a matter of who it goes to. Right now, only about 10 percent of the nation’s population has electricity in their homes. Given how fast it hopes to grow its economy, Kenya needs to not only generate far more power, it needs to build up the infrastructure necessary to transmit it on a much larger scope.
Perhaps for these reasons, the European Development Bank and the World Bank have stepped up to finance the project. Their support should lower the cost of the power produced for average Kenyans (and help them maintain energy independence), and it should go a long way toward meeting the world community’s energy and emissions reduction goals. The German Development Bank, the African Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency are also chipping in to help the Kenyan government afford the project.
The geothermal facilities in question are expected to be up and running by 2013. While they will be capital intensive, geothermal has proven itself to be up to 90 percent efficient and reliable around the clock in Kenya. With energy consumption expected to jump 10 percent (8,000 megawatts) in the next two decades, this couldn’t be happening at a better time.