Geothermal and power pooling across East Africa

Power_cable_-_AfricaAs Kenya’s economy grows, the country has found itself looking to meet rising demand for power by developing geothermal power to cushion the fragile hydropower generation, which supplies more than 60 per cent of the national grid

Currently, Kenya’s peak demand stands at 1,191MW against the available generation capacity of 1,359MW, as of May 2011.

The annual increase in power demand — estimated at about 8 per cent and rising — has led the government to seek viable power imports from regional neighbours, notably Ethiopia and Uganda.

Kenya has an estimated geothermal power potential of between 7,000MW and 10,000MW but only 200MW is exploited.

The country had expected to generate 50 per cent of its power needs from geothermal by 2018.

Straddling the Great Rift Valley, Kenya has a huge potential for geothermal power development if funding is available, say power experts.

Recently, a planned 400MW geothermal power generating station at Menengai, Central Rift Valley, received US$113 million funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB), with funds being released by March 2012.

“Funding for the Menengai project has already been approved by the board and we expect to see a lot of activity around March this year,” said AfDB regional director Gabriel Negatu.

The project is being financed by the Government of Kenya, AfDB and other development partners to the tune of more than $760 million.

The Geothermal Development Company (GDC), the state-owned company responsible for developing geothermal power, has said that work has begun on the first phase of the project.

It will involve the construction of four power generating plants, each with an output of 100MW.

Drilling in Menengai is ongoing through two rigs owned by GDC, purchased through funding from the Government of Kenya. AfDB funding will, therefore, boost the 400MW project, according to AfDB officials.

“GDC will purchase two rigs, drilling materials and one modular power plant with the AfDB funds,” said a statement from GDC.

Donors for the geothermal projects include the European Investment Bank, Climate Investment, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank.

But even with the continued development of geothermal power, Kenya has recently signed a 400MW electricity supply deal with Ethiopia, to fill the yawning gap between demand and supply in the local market.

Ethiopia, which is endowed with a huge hydropower potential of about 45,000MW, is currently building three dams to generate power for domestic use and export to Kenya and other neighbouring countries.

Endowed with mountainous and rainy terrain, Ethiopia is the only country in the region with surplus power, backed up by a reserve margin of more than 30 per cent — double the recommended margin of 15 per cent.

Under the deal, Kenya will pay US cents 7 per kilowatt hour. The transmission line is expected to be completed by 2016 at a total cost of $1.2 billion.

The two countries are to mobilise funds for building a 1,045-kilometre high voltage electricity transmission line.

“Donors like the French are keen to support the transmission line project. Kenya’s funding is about $666 million and Ethiopia’s $486 million,” said Joel Kiilu, managing director at Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco).

The selection of consultants to oversee building of the transmission line, designed with power transfer capacity of 2,000MW, will soon start, with construction scheduled to beginning in mid-2013 and completed in 2016.

The high-voltage direct current (HVDC) line requires the erection of steel towers, transmission cables and inverter substations at Suswa in Kenya and Welayta Sodo in Ethiopia.

Analysts have said that the completion of the high-voltage electricity line is expected to open avenues for big consumers, such as cement manufacturers, to enter into negotiations for the supply of cheap power directly with Ethiopia.

The Kenya-Ethiopia deal has provided a model for future arrangements under the Eastern Africa Power Pool. Already the five-member East African Community has indicated power pooling as the way of the future in meeting the rising demand for power.

Other projects under the power pool are under way, with the goal being to create a regional electricity network.

Tanzania will be connected to its neighbours through the planned Kenya-Tanzania interconnection and through the extension of the Tanzania grid to the north-western Rusumo Falls Hydropower Project, shared among Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.

On the other hand, Uganda and DR Congo are planning to extend the Ugandan electricity network to Beni and Bunia in DR Congo, through a transmission line at Nkenda-Beni-Bunia.

Kenya has also been working on other interconnection facilities, such as the Lessos-Toro line with Uganda and the Isinya-Arusha line with Tanzania, to address power shortages and unreliability of supply in the region.

Mwangi Mumero

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