Kenya’s rapid investment in geothermal power in recent years is increasingly paying dividends through the supply of reliable, clean energy and by lowering the cost of electricity to consumers.
Geothermal power, which is generated from natural steam from the earth, some from as far as three kilometers underground, is a renewable source of energy and, unlike hydro, its output is not affected by vagaries of weather. Kenya’s government has recently stepped up geothermal development in new fields, including Menengai, run by the Geothermal Development Company.
Geothermal’s contribution to the national energy mix increased to 51% last week, following the commissioning of two new plants with a combined capacity of 280 megawatts: Olkaria 1 and Olkaria 4 in the Rift Valley.
Supported by the World Bank Group, Olkaria is one of the largest single geothermal investment projects in the world and geothermal is now the largest source of electricity for Kenya, ahead of hydro which has dominated the country’s power supply for decades. In 2010, geothermal accounted for a mere 13% of Kengen’s power mix. Other partners in the Olkaria project include the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the European Investment Bank, Agency France de Developpement and Germany’s KFW.
Kenya’s plan, according to Kengen officials, is to increase geothermal capacity by another 460 megawatts by 2018 to reduce the volume of hydro power in its mix to 28% by 2018. This will significantly reduce the exposure of Kenya’s electricity consumers to the consequences of drought, which considerably reduces power supply from the hydro power stations and forces the country to resort to costly diesel generated power.