Kenya’s Geothermal Energy Surges the Country Towards Sustainability

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NAIROBI — ¬†Kenya was recently named one of the leading “green” countries in the world. With financial support from Japan and others, the central African country is harnessing its natural geographical endowment for renewable energy.

Technological advances in the last fifteen years have made green energy more competitive, price-wise, to traditional fossil fuels. In that span, Kenya’s geothermal energy production has skyrocketed. Instead of relying heavily on oil and gas as many developing nations do, Kenya ramped up its production of geothermal energy from 45 to 533 megawatts. Kenya’s geothermal energy now accounts for nearly half of all power running through the grid.

What is geothermal power?

Think of geothermal as an updated steam engine. The earth’s magma provides the heat to turn water underground into steam pockets, which companies will drill into and attach to generators and turbines. When the trapped steam builds enough pressure it turns a turbine in the same way wind turns a wind turbine.

Why did Kenya choose geothermal?

Kenya is lucky in this way as the earth’s magma layer is closer to the surface due to shifting tectonic plates underneath the country. Instead of turning to solar panel or wind turbine manufacturers which would cost the nation a good deal of money, Kenya has chosen to take advantage of the wealth of potential below their feet.

Geothermal is expensive too, initially. The overhead costs of drilling wells can be upwards of millions of dollars but, is relatively cheap to maintain afterwards. Kenya has taken out loans with other nations, namely Japan who gave over $400 million, to cover initial drilling costs.

What are the geothermal benefits for Kenya?

Before taking advantage of geothermal, Kenya relied heavily on fossil fuels and hydroelectric dams. Many businesses and individuals experienced routine outages due to drought and when it comes to the economy and health care centers, outages could have dire consequences.

Unlike water and fossil fuels which are respectively subject to weather and market prices, Kenya’s geothermal energy has been there all along, right underneath them. The increased reliance on geothermal has lowered energy costs and increased the stability of service.

Some companies have reported saving hundreds of thousands of dollars due to transitioning to geothermal energy. This is good news for Kenyans, as money saved on energy costs can be used to invest in expansion and possibly more jobs.

What does Kenya have in store for the future?

Kenya has plans to continue drilling more geothermal wells in the near future. With the aforementioned loan from Japan, Kenya has also planned to establish a fifth power plant to be fully operational by 2018.

After realizing renewable geothermal potential, Kenya plans to move increasingly to it and other “green” energy supplies. The demand for electricity is there as Kenya increases its power output; and currently, two thirds of the country is in the dark.

If Kenya can realize savings through the use of renewable and geothermal energy in particular, the benefits could prove huge boons to rural Kenyans through an increase in energy supply, lower prices and more energy infrastructure around the country.

While Kenya’s geothermal energy achievements are enormous and should be recognized as the ideal energy infrastructure development model for developing nations, there is still some ways to go. As energy becomes cheaper, Kenya as a whole needs to extend the benefits to the nation’s un-electrified.

Thomas James Anania
Photo: Flickr

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