Kenya’s soft diplomatic power in sizzling geothermal energy

The formation of the scenic Rift Valley may have inadvertently handed Kenya a wild card. You can imagine the era when volcanoes erupted with pleasure and in abandon from Longonot to Menengai, from Paka to Silali. The chain is endless especially along the fault-lines of the rift.

Yet, today, that phenomena that must have looked like an extract from hell, gives Kenya not only scenic landscapes; the very act of volcanism is supporting Kenya’s bid in soft diplomatic power. Geothermal development is emerging as one of Kenya’s enviable jewels at the deck of attractive ventures that make our country admirable.

So how is geothermal, such hot stuff, found in the most unforgiving parts of the country rise as the star that glistens across the continent attracting reverence and admiration?
For starters, Kenya is towering in the geothermal front. In Africa, we are the most advanced nation commercially exploiting the resource.

That is why, even as the President commissioned the 140 MW in Olkaria, it was not just about cost of electricity. Kenya was sending a message to the world of her desires toward self-reliance in diplomatic parlance known as self-help. The President aptly captured it in the slogan, Powering Freedom.
And that is why last November, as has been the case for the past nine years, 58 fellows from 18 African countries congregated in Kenya to learn about our geothermal technology. This training is under the auspices of the United Nations University Geothermal Technology Programme (UNU-GTP). Locally, the Iceland-based UNU-GTP partners with KenGen and GDC.

And in all its benevolence, Kenya has opened her doors to neighbours to experience and learn. The Menengai Geothermal Project in Nakuru County, for instance, has become a poster child of how to develop a geothermal resource rapidly and cost effectively. Menengai is an epic triumph Kenya should be proud of.

So why is Kenya a power when it comes to geothermal energy? In Africa, it is only in Kenya you find commercial exploitation of geothermal energy. Today, geothermal accounts for 570 MW about 30 per cent of the grid. Then, Kenya is home to an Independent Power Producer (IPP), we also have a special purpose vehicle – the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) - designed to specifically accelerate development of geothermal energy.

Kenya has a rich history dating from the 1950s in geothermal exploration and development. Our rich tradition in geothermal is now an enviable national heritage. We have tried, faltered, rose up, learned and now we are on the journey to massive production of electricity from geothermal energy.
Kenya is part of the Eastern African Rift System (EARS), a geological formation that runs from Yemen to Comoros covering 6,500 KM cutting through 11 countries. It is this geological configuration characterised by the Great Rift Valley that a geothermal phenomenon happens.

Now, with this technology, experience and development model, Kenya sits at an enviable perch when it comes to renewable energy. It explains why African countries in the EARS are looking at us for support. This is why heads of State of the Northern Corridor Infrastructure Projects chose GDC as the regional Centre of Excellence. GDC is mandated to build the geothermal capacities of countries in Africa.

Then there is Tanzania, which has formed the Tanzania Geothermal Development Company (TGDC) modeled on the Kenya’s GDC. Tanzania is banking on our scientists and experts, our insights and our strategy to support her bid for geothermal development.
Besides, other countries have sought GDC’s expertise. This include Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Comoros, Yemen, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. Countries in this region can only develop such a resource with a qualified pool of experts. That is why Kenya is keen to support the training.
Africa, and indeed the global community, is gyrating towards green, affordable and reliable energy. It is pleasing to note that this burgeoning sector is the energy nectar.

The success of geothermal development is pegged on four key pillars: Availability of the geothermal resource, right geothermal policies, finance and expertise.
We in the geothermal fraternity are glad to help Kenya advance its soft power when it comes to energy development from geothermal resources.

Many countries in Africa admire and even revere Kenya for her strides in geothermal investment and technology. It is such tiny aspects as admiration that form part of the fabric of a regional power. Geothermal is furthering regional cooperation and therefore improving relations between countries. For instance, Kenya was tasked to develop about 1000MW from geothermal energy to be distributed in the region.

It has boosted our image and standing among nations. Kenya is today attractive in the eyes of those who seek our technology. No doubt that from the hot steams of our land, shall Kenya rise as a regional power.

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geothermal energy volcanoes