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Geothermal places Kenya into future

Tuesday September 5 2017

 geothermal well at Olkaria.

This image taken on January 31, 2017 shows the geothermal well at Olkaria. More energy is required for Kenya to achieve the economic golden age. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ERIC WAMANJI
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During ‘Kenya Week’ at the 2017 Astana Expo, the country sought to showcase its merchandise and pedigree in renewable energy, especially geothermal.

The international exposition, themed “Future Energy”, which has been running since June 10 and is set to end on September 10 in Astana, Kazakhstan, has attracted a diversity of chartbuster innovations on energy that seeks efficiency and friendliness to the environment.

A peek into the technologies shows the world is seriously preparing for a post-oil reality.

PARIS AGREEMENT
Indeed, energy, as we know it, is changing rapidly.

The hitherto lucrative but destructive biofuels are under siege from cleaner sources.

This makes energy a hot topic in the international realm. It literally drives economies and political power.

But never has the concept of energy been as charged, divisive and explosive as it is in today’s global geopolitical dispensation, especially after the COP21 Paris Agreement.

ELECTRICITY
Thus, it was fitting that the Astana expo has squarely sustained discourses on energy, especially in relation to climatic changes, it has come at a time when an incredible Hurricane Harvey is terrorising Houston and Kenya’s green energy efforts have hit about 30 per cent.

When you think about future energy, think about total disruption.

Most of Kenya’s electricity for domestic use, for instance, will be off-grid.

Wind and solar are set to reign supreme. Everyday, the photovoltaic panels are becoming cheaper, efficient and ubiquitous. They are also very easy to install.

RESEARCH
Thus, silicon and glass — tipped to achieve grid parity in the near future — will transform business models as we know them, gnawing into the profits of blue-chip utilities.

This will be in the form of ordinary panels or high-tech tiles like the ones the US firm Tesla Solar Roof is vouching for.

Massive research has gone into the production of high-storage lithium batteries that will be a major game changer in the energy mix.

Future homes will bid electricity bills goodbye as big firms also skirt the bills when they install biogas to replace diesel-heated boilers.

Those who set up shop in the geothermal belt will tap into the raw geothermal heat for the same purpose.

SOLAR PANELS

This poses critical strategic challenges and opportunities to power players.

Unless we develop smart grids and reinvent early, we are likely to suffer losses, and with lack of money for maintenance, ultimately, supply will be wobbly.

Some cities in Australia are already experiencing this challenge as more and more people install solar panels.

Opportunities abound, however. New business models designed on the M-Kopa plan or production and installation of solar panels the Tesla Solar Roof way.

GEOTHERMAL
It may appear far-fetched now but, remember, it only took a wireless invention and embracing from the public to bring down telephone landlines.

It took the Ford Model T to bring to a halt the horse-drawn carriage empire in New York City.

And the digital photography turned negatives dark for Kodak.

Besides solar, geothermal will be the biggest disruptor.

Geothermal is prolific on many fronts, especially on the concept of extracting raw heat from the fluids for industrial processes like heating boilers.

Studies show that, using this approach, investors save up 70 per cent of heating costs.

INVESTOR
Geothermal offers an opportunity to bulk power consumers to produce their own electricity using containerised wellhead generators.

Oserian Flower Farm in Naivasha has installed two small power plants of 2.5MW and 1.8 MW to generate power for it own use.

It is possible for an investor to drill a geothermal well and install a 5MW power plant.

They can also buy steam from a developer to generate electricity, bypassing current generation and distribution architecture.

Put this into the context that Kenya is endowed with mind-boggling geothermal potential upwards of 10,000 MW straddling the length of the Rift Valley from Lake Turkana to Lake Magadi in 14 high-temperature areas.

GREEN ENERGY

From this reality, a future industrial complex like the one on the Rhine Valley, Germany, starts to shape up.

The difference is that, this will be clean energy.

No doubt, geothermal energy is Kenya’s crown jewel.

It has stabilised our national grid from erratic supplies and tamed the runaway high tariffs associated with thermal-generated power.

More energy is required for Kenya to achieve the economic golden age.

The energy of the future, though, will disrupt the current set-up. We better be prepared for a ‘Model T’ moment.

Mr Wamanji is a public relations expert. [email protected] Twitter: @manjis