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Kenya boosts wind power in its renewable energy mix

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:42 GMT
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A crane is used to carry out construction work near wind turbines at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) plant in the Ngong hills, southwest of Nairobi, July 17, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kenya is set to gain more wind farms as the East African country moves to increase and diversify its clean energy resources.

Nairobi-based company Bluesea Energy Ltd has announced it will begin producing 40 megawatts (MW) in the second half of 2015 at its flagship wind power plant in Meru, expanding the renewable energy mix of a country that has previously relied on hydro and geothermal energy.

“We are moving away from traditional methods of generating power such as thermal, to clean methods of producing the same using our wind resource, which is more innovative and cuts carbon emissions,” the company’s chairman, David Ikiara, said in a phone interview.

Ikiara said the new plant would generate employment opportunities for young people.

“This will also teach communities, especially the youth, about innovative, non-traditional ways of generating power,” he added.

The company has applied to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for a generation license for its first wind farm in Meru, central Kenya, with a view to selling power to the national grid.

Bluesea announced in 2011 that it would invest $100 million to establish three wind-power plants in Meru and neighbouring Isiolo district, and in the Lambwe Valley in southern Kenya, producing between 7 MW and 60 MW.

Meru will be the first of these to become operational, and construction on the other two plants is scheduled to start later next year. Feasibility studies for those plants have been completed and financing has been negotiated with banks, Ikiara told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Meru plant is significantly bigger than the Ngong wind power station, located on the outskirts of Nairobi, which is owned and operated by the public utility Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen).

Ngong produces 6.8 MW, but KenGen plans to upgrade its capacity to 25 MW by 2016, according to its executive director Albert Mugo.

COSTLY TO SET UP

Meanwhile, the country’s largest wind power project is now under construction at Lake Turkana in the north, near the border with Ethiopia, after $686 million in funding was secured earlier this year from a consortium of financiers including the African Development Bank.

Due for completion in 2019, the project will be the single biggest wind power plant in Africa, contributing 300 MW to the national grid.

Kenya has the potential to produce up to 1,000 MW of wind power, according to the ERC – equal to around two thirds of the country’s current installed capacity of 1,600 MW.

Some 800 MW comes from hydropower and 350 MW from the geothermal sources that abound in the Rift Valley region, with the rest from oil-powered plants.  

Fredrick Nyang, ERC director-general, said a map of the whole country has been drawn up to identify locations with potential for wind power.

“Detailed feasibility studies are underway to determine the viability of specific sites identified in the wind map,” said Nyang. The northern regions of Marsabit, Turkana and Samburu are known to have strong promise, he added.

Energy Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge blamed the lack of significant investment in wind power to date on high infrastructure costs, including the initial expense of setting up wind farms.

“The other obstacle is the cost of connecting such power to the national grid, which would also involve construction of many kilometres of transmission lines,” Njoroge added.

FOSSIL FUELS TOO

According to the ERC, Kenya has an estimated potential of up to 10,000 MW from geothermal. Extensive exploration of suitable sites for drilling is underway in at least 20 different locations by private firms and government agencies including Geothermal Development Company (GDC), a state firm set up to spearhead exploitation of the resource.

Njoroge said the country would pursue clean energy despite continuing to explore for oil, gas and coal.

“We have our priorities right - we are not pursuing fossil fuels so as to abandon intensified exploration and exploitation of renewable energy, but mainly to boost the country’s economy,” he said.

Kenya has recently discovered 400 million tonnes of coal and an estimated 600 million barrels of oil. Exploitation of these resources is expected to begin by 2020. The government says it will help the country attain middle-income status by 2030.

Maina Waruru is a freelance contributor for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, based in Nairobi, with an interest in science and climate change issues.

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