Kenya has opened the largest geothermal power plant in the world in Olkaria, a region located immediately to the south of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley, in a flex of its technological credentials and a major step for renewable energy development in East Africa.
At 140MW, the Olkaria IV power plant has eclipsed previous geothermal record holders and is expected to immediately reduce the cost of electricity in Kenya by 30%, and by early next year achieve a cumulative reduction of 50%.
“Take my word that the cost of goods will come down and this will lead to a lower cost of living for all Kenyans,” President Kenyatta declared at the commissioning, which oversaw the upload of the $126.5m plant’s massive power capacity onto the national electricity grid.
“You cannot fight poverty when you do not have power to run an economy with industries to create jobs and create wealth, and we will not achieve the transformation we want if we do not increase the quantity of power, reduce its costs and ensure its regular supply.”
In addition to the geothermal projects themselves, Kenya’s government has also already demarcated three industrial zones near Olkaria in a bid to create a hotspot for investors, industry and businesses in an environment no longer plagues by issues of energy security.
“The industrial park that will be established here will demonstrate the actuality of the connection between geothermal power and industrialisation,” the President continued.
“The successful completion of an energy infrastructure project of this magnitude is a grand achievement in its own right, but our developmental momentum is now unstoppable.”
The project was co-financed by the Kenyan government through KenGen, the World Bank, the French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank, among others and built by KEC of India, Toyota, Hyundai Engineering and Sinclair Knight Merz of New Zealand.
Like any sizeable energy project, Olkaria IV has not been without its controversy, but while its construction did require the displacement of certain Massai communities, it is hard to imagine many Kenyans will disagree with the result or the comparatively meagre price tag.
As seen from Nairobi’s perspective, only a third of Kenya’s 44 million citizens are on the grid and some 70% of businesses cite a lack of power as a major obstacle: Kenya simply needs more electricity.
As a region, Olkaria has been under investigation for its geothermal resources since the 1950s, and is now estimated to boast a geothermal potential of some 2,000 MW – almost double the maximum daily electricity peak demand five years ago for the entire country.
“The resource potential is quite huge,” explained Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun of the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility in Nairobi. “It is estimated to be close to 10,000MW and there’s probably more yet to be discovered because it is the Great Rift.”
Aside from Olkaria, among the largest well clusters are Menengai and Baringo, which have potential capacities of 1,600 MW and 800 MW, respectively, and the government’s 2030 medium-term plan envisages the drilling of 620 geothermal wells at a cost of worth $2.6bn.
President Kenyatta has meanwhile made it his personal mission to increase electricity production from the current 1,700MW to 5000MW, through primarily renewable means, within 36 months.