Cheap power in sight as Kenya doubles geothermal generation

KenGen has been doing an upgrade of its Olkaria 1 and 4 plants, with each having an additional capacity of 140MW. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]


NAIROBI, KENYA: Kenya will more than double the amount of electricity produced at the vast geothermal fields in Olkaria this year. Power producer KenGen is set to commission additional capacity from two existing power generation plants with a combined capacity of 280 megawatts.

An additional 100MW from Menengai where the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) plans to develop generation plants with a capacity of 400MW by 2017 is also expected to be added to the national grid in the course of this year.

The more capacity from the relatively cheaper geothermal power is expected to significantly bring down use of fuel by power generators to produce electricity, which will in turn bring down the cost of electricity for consumers.

The fuel cost element usually accounts for a substantial fraction of the power bill, at time as much as 50 per cent, especially during prolonged dry periods when water levels at electricity generation dams are low. This is the period when the country shifts reliance to diesel fired power plants.

Davis Chirchir Cabinet Secretary Energy and Petroleum said the ministry would commission 140MW in April and a further 170MW in July this year.

“We expect to add 140MW to the grid by March or April and 170MW in July from Olkaria and a further 100MW from Menengai in the course of this year. This will be at a low cost of 7 US cents,” he said. This would more than double the electricity generated from geothermal, which currently stands about 200MW.

The low level of exploitation of geothermal is despite Kenya having capacity of producing over 7000MW from the renewable resource.

Chirchir spoke on Monday when he released a list of shortlisted firms that had bid to develop coal and natural gas fired plants at the coast, also expected to further boost the country’s power generation capacity.

Electricity costs are currently high owing to heavy reliance on hydroelectricity that goes in short supply in dry periods and the country has to rely on diesel generated electricity. At the moment Kenyans pay 19 US cents but there are plans to bring this down to under 10 US cents over the next four years.


KenGen has been doing an upgrade of its Olkaria 1 and 4 plants, with each having an additional capacity of 140MW. GDC is developing a plant at Menengai with a capacity of 400MW, which will be commissioned in phases over the next three years and reach 400MW in 2017.

Chirchir recently said there are plans to shut down all diesel fired generators as more power generated from geothermal and other inexpensive sources start feeding into the national grid.

The fuel cost adjustment is among the few components of the power bill that Kenya Power is allowed to alter every month depending on the cost of fuel. The other elements are foreign exchange cost and inflation.

Kenya Power will factor in Sh5.19 per kilowatt hour for power consumed in January.

At the same time Chirchir said water levels at the electricity generating seven folks dams have adequate water to last the country through the first half of 2014. A review of the rainfall over the October – December period by the Meteorological Department showed that poor rains over the period had resulted in reduced water levels at the dams.

He, however, said the ministry and state agencies manning the power sector had reviewed the water levels and were satisfied that the water levels were enough to sustain the county lover the next months, even in the absence of the additional capacity from the geothermal power.

“There is no power crisis. We have reviewed the water levels at the electricity generating dams and we have enough water to run us through to June of this year.”