Geothermal Bubbles Up As Key Kenya Energy Source

The eastern African country of Kenya currently meets most of its electricity demand with hydroelectric resources. But a drought over the past three to four years has required the Kenyan government to rely on expensive emergency fossil-fuel based generation—and even these resources aren’t enough to meet the country’s increasing demand for electricity. As a result, Kenyans experience frequent black-outs from load-shedding, a situation that stifles investment and economic development.

In an effort to diversify its power supply, the Kenyan government has turned to geothermal power as an obvious, abundant and reliable power choice for the country. In addition to a 52-megawatt (MW) geothermal project financed by the U.S. government last year, Kenya has recently secured funding from the African Development Bank Group for a landmark geothermal energy. The Menengai Geothermal Steam Field development project will enable an independent power producer to generate 400 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity from the Menengai geothermal resource, about 110 miles northwest of Nairobi.

image via Ormat Technologies

The project, which is expected to be completed by 2016, will increase the country’s entire geothermal generating capacity by 20 percent, and generate enough electricity to power 500,000 Kenyan households and 300,000 small businesses, with an additional 1,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) left over for other industries. The project will also avoid an estimated two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Kenya is thought to have around 7,000 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power potential. The Menengai field alone has a total potential of 1600 MW. The project is part of the Kenyan Government’s larger plan to increase the country’s geothermal generation capacity to 1,700 MW by 2020 and 5,530 MW by 2031.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).