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State bets big on clean energy

BUSINESS
By | December 5th 2009

By Erick Wamanji

Plagued by incessant power shortages due to unreliable rainfall that feeds the country’s hydropower plants, the Government is turning to alternative sources of power production.

Ahead of the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, many believe power shortages are more than an immediate crisis.

Even the current rains have not eased the burden off Kenyans’ shoulders as electricity bills continue to soar.

Geothermal steam field at Olkaria in Naivasha.

[ERICK WAMANJ: STANDARD]

But this may soon change as the newly created Geothermal Development Company (GDC) — a parastatal in the Ministry of Energy — is promising to turn the energy sector around as early as next December.

Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi says the country’s electricity base load will shift from hydro-based to geothermal in the next 10 years.

"With 7,000 MW geothermal potential, why should Kenya not be a leading producer of geothermal electricity?" poses Kirairu.

His sentiments are echoed by Energy PS Patrick Nyoike.

A break with the past

"We are at the tail end of hydropower production. We can only add another 75 MW from this source to the national grid and it is important to explore alternative sources," says Nyoike.

Already GDC has mapped out potential areas to drill for geothermal steam. Last week, it signed a contract to sink about 10 wells at Olkaria Domes in Naivasha beginning January, next year.

The 10-month project is expected to supply electricity equivalent of 140 MW to the Olkaria IV power plant.

GDC Managing Director Silas Simiyu says once this resource is tapped, the cost of electricity is expected to reduce by about half.

"It is sad that we have suffered heavy electricity burden over and over. However, this is bound to change once we start drilling. GDC is committed to provide green, reliable and affordable electricity such that every village in this country will be lit, and any industrialist will be assured of steady supply," says Dr Simiyu.

He says GDC has entered into agreement with KPLC to "evacuate the power" from the geothermal sites. KPLC, through the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, will install transmission lines to tap power from the geothermal plants.

In the short term, the company plans to produce more than 200MW of electricity beginning next year.

"Ours is a paradigm shift on tapping geothermal resources. Our model of early generation will shrink the gestation period of electricity production from seven years to six months. At this rate, we will be providing 200MW to the national grid," Simiyu told a Green Energy Conference in Nairobi last week.

And he bets on the geothermal power to lead the way in the Government’s ‘going green strategy’, which will earn the country carbon credits.

"Today the world is going green and we are firmly committed to contribute to this global agenda. Clean, renewable and sustainable energy is the only way to save planet earth from collapsing. That Kenya is endowed with abundant geothermal resources is a privilege. All our efforts should now be channelled towards this environment-friendly source of energy," he says.

Studies show Kenya has a geothermal potential of 7,000 MW. The geothermal fields are strewn in the Rift Valley and parts of western Kenya.

But even with this enviable potential, the country exploits a mere 167 MW from plants situated in Olkaria.

If the Government taps this potential, experts say at least 70 per cent of the country will have electricity.

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