Kenya's geothermal capacity among the largest in the world: Report

Monday June 6 2016

One of the KenGen’s steam power harvesting wells in Olkaria: Kenya has in recent years renewed their interest in geothermal energy to reduce the economy’s use of expensive electricity from diesel generators. PHOTO | FILE

One of the KenGen’s steam power harvesting wells in Olkaria: Kenya has in recent years renewed their interest in geothermal energy to reduce the economy’s use of expensive electricity from diesel generators. PHOTO | FILE 

By NEVILLE OTUKI, [email protected]

Kenya's geothermal energy capacity expanded by 20 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2015, putting it in fourth place in terms of capacity additions and placing the country among green energy economies.

The latest Renewables Global Status report shows that the amount of geothermal energy in Kenya’s national grid expanded to a total of 600 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2015.

Geothermal now accounts for over a quarter of the country’s total power capacity of 2,333 MW.

Turkey developed the largest geothermal capacity by 159 MW last year, followed by United States (71 MW), Mexico (53 MW) and Kenya (20 MW) at fourth position.

Japan came in fifth having added 7 MW of steam energy to its energy matrix while Germany was sixth (6 MW).

Overall, Kenya is ranked as the eighth largest producer of geothermal electricity in the world.

The country has an untapped potential of 10,000 MW of steam energy in its Rift Valley basin where a series of exploration works are ongoing.

Kenyan officials have in recent years renewed their interest in geothermal energy to reduce the economy’s use of expensive electricity from diesel generators and boost the country’s competitiveness.

Some 280 MW of steam power was fed to the grid in 2014 from the Olkaria fields in Naivasha that helped to cut the share of thermal power, easing power bills by about 30 per cent.

Electricity distributor Kenya Power buys geothermal from producer KenGen at about Sh7 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for onward sale to homes and businesses.

This is three times cheaper compared to diesel generated electricity.

Official data shows that geothermal monthly consumption hit a record peak of 402.1 million units last October, accounting for 49 per cent of electricity consumed by homes and businesses.

This was a result of increased generation by KenGen, which switched on several geothermal wellheads — smaller power producing plants that enable early tapping of electricity while awaiting the construction of big geothermal plants.

The country relies on an energy mix of geothermal, thermal and hydropower – which is the cheapest source at Sh3 per unit but unreliable due to its dependence on weather patterns.

The US is the world’s top geothermal producer with an installed capacity of 3,600 MW — six times Kenya’s output — followed by Philippines (1,900 MW), Indonesia (1,400 MW) and Mexico.

Italy is fifth with 901 MW of steam power, New Zealand is sixth while Iceland is ranked seventh.

The Renewables Global Status report is prepared by Renewable Energy Policy Network — a Paris-based think-tank.