The question of energy is a big headache today. Indeed, there is consensus that our world is turning into an oven. Energy has played a role.
Further, the war in Ukraine has reminded us of our energy insecurities. Besides, Africa is still energy poor. About 600 million people can’t access clean energy.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 obligates us to help end Africa’s energy poverty. Yet, there is a strong correlation between energy abundance and socio-economic development. That’s why for Kenya, we want low cost of power. To reconfigure our fortunes, we need radical measures to deliver an energy revolution. First, nations thrive because of the courage of their imagination. Second, the centrality of energy to socio-economic development is solid; the better if the source is native.
That’s why geothermal energy is king. Geothermal is our natural heritage – it’s not imported like oil. It’s abundant in Kenya [about 10, 000MW]. Furthermore, it’s clean, reliable, and affordable. We also have vibrant homegrown geothermal expertise, hence the right ingredients to drive a geothermal boom.
And it’s paying off. Today, Kenya’s geothermal installed capacity stands at 940 MW. Soon, we will cross the 1,000MW of geothermal power mark once we start power generation at Menengai.
Today, geothermal energy accounts for roughly 45 per cent of our grid. It gallantly cushioned the country during the drought. Tariffs from geothermal too, because they are low, are cushioning the consumer against high bills. To leapfrog into an energy rich country, it requires boldness. To sharpen our competitiveness, policymakers, investors, academia, and financiers must consider geothermal energy more aggressively.
Still, geothermal development is an arduous undertaking. That is why the private sector shy off from initial critical investments like scientific exploration, infrastructure development, provision of water and drilling operations. The upstream is costly and risky.
The government, through GDC absorbs these upfront risks producing bankable projects to create an enabling environment for investor entry. The strategy has worked. It explains why in Menengai, for instance, three Independent Power Producers (IPPS) are set to each generate 35 MW in the first phase of development.
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One of the IPPs, Sosian, is testing its 35 MW powerplant. Soon Kenyans will get power from Menengai. Recently, we broke ground with Globeleq, another IPP, for construction of 35 MW powerplant. Power from Menengai will cost about Sh9 per kWh compared to Sh22 per kWh thermal plants charge.
Once the resource is proven, and well managed it can serve us for centuries. Italy is a good case. The first geothermal plant was established in 1904; it still runs today. All they do is replace equipment.
To make optimal use of geothermal energy, we need to reinvigorate the entire energy ecosystem. First, we need a robust East Africa Power Pool system. This system will allow us to trade excess power.
Second, it is time to focus on captive power use. This is when heavy consumers set shop near power generation sites to tap direct power from the powerplant. The captive power approach will attract a value chain of different actors and therefore industrial centres.
Finally, geothermal is more than electricity. There is a huge world known as Direct Uses in geothermal energy. This is a world where, the heat from the hot steam is extracted for industrial process thus displacing use of wood or heavy oil. At Menengai, we have experimented this Direct Use model for milk pasteurisation, greenhouse heating, heating aquatic ponds and even to dry grains. The results are terrific.
The opportunities are right here with us. What we need, as a society, is imagination and courage to venture into this promising world of geothermal.
Writer is CEO of Geothermal Development Company