By Paul Ndiho
December 29, 2010
Kenya, facing an acute energy crisis, is expanding its use of geothermal energy, with the help of multi-national cooperations.
Outside of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the landscape around Naivasha town looks like a modern day snakes-and-ladders set. It’s all part of the steel infrastructure of the Olkaria Geothermal Power Station, located in a national park where giraffes graze close to the fence, unfazed by the whirr of power-producing turbines. The power stations here at Olkaria produce 163 megawatts, 13 per cent of Kenya’s total generating capacity.
“The project started by United Nations Development Program that funded the first exploration; the service exploration which means geochemistry, geology, geophysics, environment and heat from measurements. And it is from that study that Olkaria was identified for the first exploration wells.”
In Africa’s vast landscape, finding the best places to drill for geothermal energy can be challenging.
“We have encouraged the scientists working in the geothermal development to come up with more accurate data and data that can be combined so that the risk of a fail drilling is now less; and that greatly reduces the cost of geothermal exploitation.”
With its high oil prices, coupled with drought and population spikes, much of Africa is facing an acute energy crisis.
“The longer Rift Valley of East Africa, there are thousands of megawatts of proven potential for geothermal power generation. It is a clean and increasingly cheap source of energy that also provides countries with inability to become less dependent on world plus a few markets and to develop their domestic capacity to generate power for their people and their economies in the future.”
Olkaria Geothermal Power Project is next to farms that produce some of the finest flowers in the world.
“Here in Kenya we have very hot days but also very cold nights, so when we get the cold nights the relative humidity is rising in the early morning so we pass the heat through these pipes basically to push the humid air out of the vents so that we don’t need to use fungicide because we are controlling the relative humidity in the green house and preventing condensation of the leaves or on the flowers. Here you can see a pipe where we are going to basically in the future using this pipe to inject carbon dioxide into the green house to enhance the growth of the plant and increase the photosynthesis of the crops itself which should increase the production capacity, and that’s basically ‘part and parcel’ of the geothermal project that we are doing will extract the C02 source from the geothermal well and inject it to the green house to convert that C02 into oxygen.
The “Oserian” flower farm makes good use of energy from existing geothermal wells, but better power generation is on the way:
“The geothermal prospects of Kenya itself will in the next years be developed. But the success of the project is even over and beyond because it showcased also to the other countries in the region that geothermal is not a risky technology any longer but a credible addition, a credible completion to the existing power mix.”
Analysts say geothermal energy is the most economical power generation option for Kenya, and they say this innovation is a boon for Africa, and will attract foreign investment and expertise to the region.