Paka Hills and why Kenya is on the cusp of a geothermal revolution

Energy CS Davis Chirchir opens a valve at a geothermal well in Paka Hills, Baringo County. [Courtesy]

In times of anxiety, there is a whiff of good news wafting from a far-flung land called Paka Hills, in Baringo County.

Recently our engineers at the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) struck monumental well with a terrific output of 22MW. That is a massive yield from just one well. Such outcomes are the ones that are rapidly positioning Kenya on the cusp of a geothermal revolution that will power our future as a country.

Paka Hills is a new field that GDC is developing. To understand why GDC is celebrating, one needs to understand the sheer investment of financial resources, manpower and time that is needed to drill a single geothermal well.

The requirements are massive, yet, on average, internationally, a geothermal well is expected to yield 5 MW. Ours is the equivalent of four wells in one thus saving hugely on investment costs.

Therefore, such success reinvigorates our spirit and commitment towards clean, reliable, and affordable power. Importantly, it is the promise that with cheaper power coming rapidly online, so will investors who are seeking to put up power plants and those who want to consume our green power for industrial production.

Indeed, Paka is an emerging geothermal field in the larger Baringo-Silali Geothermal Complex. Currently, GDC has already availed 70 MW of steam in the region. And it was impressive to get assurances from Ministry of Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davies Chirchir that the prospect IS ripe for the next stage which is power generation.

In fact, Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and KenGen, will be selected competitively. The government will be looking for someone with competitive tariffs. The IPP model is one of the key planks that Kenya is unleashing to accelerate the development of geothermal in the country.

For instance, in Menengai Geothermal Project, one IPP is already generating 35 MW to the grid just within 13 years of GDC’s existence. We need more investment in the geothermal sector to unlock our vast resources effectively.

All this is possible thanks to the government’s commitment to streamline the energy sector. The masterstroke was the Sessional Paper No. 4 of 2004.

This is the document that unbundled the energy sector to produce specialised agencies that focus on specific portfolios. GDC is a baby of this framework. And in 2008, GDC was incorporated with an express mandate to develop geothermal in the country.

Today, investment and commitment to geothermal has catapulted the country into a geothermal giant. About 10 years ago, Kenya’s installed geothermal capacity was a mere 167 MW. Today, the country boasts 954 MW. When the 35 MW from Menengai Geothermal Project will be factored in, Kenya will be gallantly marching to a 1000 MW threshold. That is a big deal.

We must celebrate the seers and planners and those who facilated this geothermal explosion in our country. Kenya is set to become a global geothermal powerhouse.

 -Mr Ngugi is the Managing Director and CEO of the Geothermal Development Company