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Crisis Smarting: A Success Story of Kenya’s Geothermal Green Energy Evolution

There is no doubt that Kenya is a global leader in the green energy sector. The East African economy is powered by an 81% cocktail of green energy. The nation installed capacity is 2,990 MW, a significant growth from 1,800MW in 2014. Wind power accounts for 2% of the national installed capacity, with the nation priding itself on the biggest wind power project in Sub-Saharan Africa. Solar powered energy with its huge potential for an Equatorian nation stands at 1%. A pioneer in geothermal energy, Kenya’s installed geothermal energy stands at 41%. Geothermal surpassed traditional hydro energy whose installed capacity is 34%.

Kenya’s energy story however, hasn’t always been rosy. It is a story of one nation smarting from a gruesome past. The impacts of climate change on hydro energy reliance, and investors fleeing due to high fossil energy forced Kenya into the drawing board. Unreliable energy threatened its economic dominance in the region. By 2009 when the nation faced one of its worst droughts, energy scheduling had become the rule, not the exemption. The government had to look for a solution. The midterm was to invest in thermal energy; long term The Great Rift Valley.

The long depression stretching from Jordan to Mozambique holds promise for the energy crisis in Africa. Known as the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, the biodiversity-rich landscape is steaming to power the dark continent into the light. The rift, an area of active volcanic activity holds mind-blowing power in the form of geothermal. Kenya alone estimates the potential of this power in its rift region to be over 10,000 MW.

Kenya’s Geothermal wells activities began sometimes in the 80s. At Olkaria 1 then, the first wells produced a mere 14MW. At that time, Kenya was the first African Country to tap into geothermal power. Geothermal energy production nevertheless lost steam in those early days due to political mismanagement of the economy. It was not until the mid-2000s that drilling rigs littered the floor of the rift once more.

Today, Kenya is in a race against herself to tap into the huge promise of geothermal energy. From 14MW in the 80s at Olkaria 1, the country’s geothermal mix has jumped to about 700 MW in 2022. More wells, (Olkaria I improved (185 MW), Olkaria II (105 MW) and Olkaria IV (140 MW), Olkaria V (160 MW),] 75 MW Wellhead generation plants, Olkaria III (139 MW) are feeding into Kenya energy needs with clean energy. More projects are ongoing such as the Menengai’s 105 MW and Baringo’s 300 MW. Many are the areas where the geothermal energy potential hasn’t been scratched.
The country’s ambitious plan is to increase this by eight folds by 2030. This means Kenya’s geothermal energy installed capacity will be over 5,000 MW. This is just below the projected total national energy needs then, and over 51% of its energy mix coming from geothermal.

By aggressively tapping into geothermal, Kenya has begun showing improvements on both the economic and social fronts. Already, the country is among the top ten geothermal energy producers globally. The improvement equally means that the Kenya is progressively shutting down the dirty and expensive thermal energies. In recent years, energy reliability improvements have seen investors trooping back into the country. At household levels, the country has 75% of households connected to electricity and over 95% of public schools. It means for instance that the share of household percentage using clean cooking energy jumped from below 1% in 1990 to over 20% in 2022. Its implication is a healthier nation.

The successes in Kenya can be adopted elsewhere in the continent. Ethiopia’s geothermal potential stands at about 11,000MW with only tapped 7.3MW, Tanzania 5,000MW with 250 MW tapped. In South Africa, where its energy crisis is as legendary as its heroes, wind power could be tapped to solve the problem. In did, the continent has over 59,000 GW of technical wind resource potential – enough to power the continent’s energy demand 250 times over. Neither is the African continent short of sun. From Kenya’s story, what is needed in the continent is political goodwill to unlock the green energy sector and power the African renaissance which unlike others will be green.

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