Kenya goes geothermal for energy needs

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NAIROBI - The Kenyan Government has announced it has struck commercially exploitable geothermal steam in the Rift Valley area of Menengai, Nakuru.
State owned Geothermal Development Company (GDC) the firm purposely created as a special vehicle to fast track development of geothermal resources, consequently says the successful completion of the well at the geothermal rich Menengai area could see Kenya start generating an additional 8MW of power as early as March next year.

Speaking recently during a press tour of the geothermal site, the GDC managing director, Dr. Silas Simiyu said the development could rid Kenya of its energy challenges in less than five years.
Simiyu said the model of harnessing geothermal energy employed by GDC in striking the first of a projected 120 geothermal wells in the area, is fast and cheap compared to other models of harnessing geothermal energy.
Kenya currently has an installed energy capacity of about 1,300 MW against an estimated deficit of about 1,100 MW with more than 60%  of energy generated from hydro stations. By effectively increasing the amount of geothermal power produced in the country the move is expected to consolidate Kenya’s efforts of reducing over reliance on hydro power as well as the need to use diesel for power generation.
Kenya has over-relied on fossil fuels for its energy demands resulting in high energy costs.
Weak, almost crippled, national energy supply line that is perennially at the mercy of natural factors has for over a decade led to the high energy costs with no foreseeable end in sight putting at risk the economic expansion of East Africa’s largest economy. In view of the above renewable energy is quickly proving to be one of the better options across the country due to the availability of the natural resources needed for renewable power.
“This is a great day for Kenya,” said Dr Simiyu during the opening of the first well in Menengai on Saturday May 14. “This well has been drilled at half the costs of the other wells that are normally drilled here in Kenya.”
He added: “As GDC continues to prove more steam in Menengai, it means that as a nation we are inching closer to an era of affordable, reliable and clean energy. It is the geothermal energy portfolio that will drive the country toward Vision 2030.” In Kenya’s middle income economic blue print, the Vision 2030, the electricity demand is projected at about 15,000 MW by 2030, part of which is expected that 5,000 MW will come from geothermal generation to partly meet this demand.
In the drilling of the well GDC employed its own two rigs as well as engineers drastically bringing down the costs of drilling. The reduction in the cost of drilling and the concept of early well head generation unit Simiyu said would bring down the cost of power generated by a half.
“When we use our rigs and our engineers, we cut the cost of drilling by us to keep it running. This is a major saving on the part of the government and it means that it will have a corresponding drop on the electricity tariffs when its steam is converted into electricity,” Simiyu said.
He added: “We believe this will translate to the industries producing products that are competitive in the region. We understand that the cost of power has been a major hindrance in our products being competitive within the Comesa and East African region.”
In a bid to quickly tap into the Menengai power base Simiyu noted GDC is encouraging the installation of small portable well head generators that will start producing electricity within one year after well completion as they await the construction of the conventional plant by 2014 a move whose economic benefits are expected to ripple across the country.
“We are likely to start generating by March next year,” he said.
On the specific site of the well Simiyu anticipates that GDC will drill five additional wells.
“If we are harnessing 8 MW of steam per well then we anticipate to get 40 MW from these drill sites only and that way we can be able to quickly harness these resource and generate power in the shortest time possible,” he said. Already work on a second well is at an advanced stage.
In the long term GDC plans to drill up to 120 wells in the Menengai field each of which are bound to last more than 40 years.
The Menengai Geothermal Field itself has a potential of 1,600 MW. Several Independent Power Producers (IPPS) have already been invited by GDC to put up conventional power plants.
Kenya is now rated 7th in the world in geothermal production but Simiyu said Kenya could be the leader in geothermal resources in the world with the rate of significant progress at the site.
The Menengai area is said to have the largest potential for geothermal generation in the world apart from “The Geysers” the world's largest geothermal facility, built in the 1950s on a steam field in Northern California.
“We believe that with the journey we have started in the next two or three years GDC will be the leading developer of geothermal resources in the world,” he said.
GDC moved into Menengai a green field in geothermal parlance late 2009 to a carry out surface exploration. Then it constructed roads, drilling pads, and intricate water system in one of the most rugged and volcanic calderas into the country. Last October GDC shipped in the country two deep drilling rigs to drill for geothermal steam. The rigs can drill up to 4km into the earth’s belly.
Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have potential to generate geothermal power since they sit on the western arm of the volcanic ranges.

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