Kenya is the only African country that has successfully tapped the green energy potential of geothermal power and is ranked number eight in the world. Kenya’s 676MW geothermal output trails that of the USA (3,567MW) Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, and ahead of Iceland, and Japan.
The bulk of this geothermal power comes from the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (Kengen) which supplies 1.6GW (80%) of the country’s 2.3GW electricity output. Of that 533MW is from geothermal energy, primarily from the Olkaria area near Naivasha, where the first wells were dug in 1950 and their deployment and production accelerated after 2007.
Kengen has 294 drilled walls with an 80% success rate, and part of that leap has been due to a Kengen-pioneered “wellhead technology”, which was done in partnership with Green Energy, an Icelandic company. Wellhead technology allows Kengen to tap steam energy within a year or two of sinking a well and recoup their investments faster (it usually costs $6 million to dig a well). In all, Kengen generates 75MW from 7 wellhead stations at Olkaria and one at Eburu.
In terms of electricity generation, Kengen plans to have supply stay ahead of demand especially considering the long setup time for energy plants (about seven years). With funds raised from shareholders and investors in 2016, they plan to add 1,000 MW to reach 1,745MW by the year 2025.
Kenya has an estimated 10,000 MW of geothermal power potential, and geothermal steam allows high energy demand manufacturing such as steel, cement and glass processing take place. These are currently hampered by the high costs of electricity, but the separation processes of geothermal gases means that such companies can tap steam to use at their factories nearby and this is the strategy behind a planned Kengen industrial park at Olkaria, Naivasha. Already Oserian Flowers buys steam and pipes it to heat their greenhouses in the nearby area.
As at June 2017, Kengen had a diversified mix of installed energy sources comprising Hydro 818 MW (including Masinga 40 MW , Kamburu 94.2MW, Gitaru 225MW, Kindaruma 72MW, Kiambere 168MW, Turkwel 106MW, Sondu 60MW, Sangoro 21.2MW, Tana 20MW), Geothermal 534 MW (Olkaria I 45 MW, Olkaria II 105MW, Olkaria IV 149.8MW, Olkaria I AU 150.5MW), Thermal 253.5 MW (Kipevu I 73.5MW, Kipevu III 120MW, gas turbines 60MW) and wind power 25.5MW (three phases at Ngong Hills).
Kenya has a liberated energy production market, and other private sector players in the geothermal sector who are seeking support under a private-public partnership program include Sosian Power, Quantum Power, and Akiira, as wells as Africa Geothermal and Orpower who are close by Kengen’s fields at Olkaria.