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At the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit last December, Kenya was named as one of the developing countries that can become a leader in renewable energy generation.
“Kenya's natural fuel should come from wind, hot underground rock and the sun, whose potential has barely even been considered”, said Nick Nuttal, United Nations Environmental Programme spokesperson.
According to the Ministry of Energy, at least 7,000 MW of unexploited geothermal steam, plus extensive wind, biomass and solar capacity awaits exploitation for the country to be power secure.
The current power generation capacity is just under 950MW against the current peak demand of 1076 MW. Only about 18 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Of those connected, only 10 percent of the rural population has power.
Yet, the demand for connection has in recent years been rising mainly due to improved household incomes as the economy grows. In the 2008/9 year, 250,000 new connections were made though the power utility firm Kenya Power and Lighting Company targets one million new users annually.
Over-reliance on hydro-electric power plants has been severely affected by a cycle of droughts that in 2009 led to the closure of one plant- the Masinga Power Generation stations along River Tana.
To cater for the shortfall prompted by the reducing water levels in the hydro-power stations, the government had to sign contracts with private firms using diesel to fill the gap.
Available data indicates that 39 per cent of the power generated last year came from these diesel fueled plants, making power bills across households and industries set to double.
This, coupled with the prospects of earning carbon credits by reducing carbon emissions, has led to the government, local and foreign firms keen to develop the huge green energy potential in the country.
An estimated $5bn is needed for the country to develop fully green energy sources. Local and international financiers have been investing in the clean energy sector of the country.
A newly formed power generation company - Geothermal Development Company (GDC) is already drilling new geothermal wells in Naivasha, close to the Ol Karia site. According to GDC managing director Silas Simiyu, the company- a government firm- will drill 10 wells over the next 10 months that will add 140 MW to the national grid. With the prospects of earning carbon credits and rising energy demand in the larger East African market, foreign investment in geothermal development is expected to rise in coming years.
Wind energy has also attracted investment in recent years. Wind energy is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions when it replaces fossil-fuel-derived electricity.
At Ngong Hills, close to the City of Nairobi, Kengen is tapping on wind power potential.
Each of the six windmills atop the Ngong Hills will be able to supply power to 1,000 houses, according to Francis Makabwa, an engineer with Kengen, the power company that has commissioned the project.
“Wind is the next big thing .There is a lot of potential. This is part of the greening of Kenya,” he added.
A Dutch company Vestas has installed the windmills which are expected to add 5.1 MW of electricity to the national grid. But it is the massive Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) that will harness the largest wind energy after completion in 2012. About 365 giant wind turbines are to be installed in scorched area around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya , creating the biggest wind farm on the continent. The lake lies just south of the Ethiopian border in a dry, hot arid region.
Hot winds blow the volcanic soil consistently throughout the year in this area that lies between the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands. According to the United Nations , the country's northern districts- dry, windy and flat- have the capacity to produce 50 MW of geothermal power. The $881-mn project will have a capacity of 300MW, a quarter of Kenya 's current installed power. The project is partly funded by the African Development Bank (ADB). Experts say that its output will be the highest proportions of wind energy to be fed in a national grid anywhere in the world. The total foreseen power generated by the initial phase of this wind farm is expected to start production in June 2011 and reach full production of 300 MW by July the following year..
The Netherlands consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project has leased 66,000 hectares of land for the development of wind turbines. LTWP has signed an agreement to sell its electricity to the Kenya Power & Lighting Company (Kengen). According to the company’s spokesperson Carlo Van Wageningen, the average wind speed is 11m per second, similar to "proven reserves" in the oil sector..
"We believe that this site is one of the best in the world for wind," he said. If the project succeeds, the company estimates that there is the potential for the farm to generate a further 2700MW of power, some of which could be exported. The company has to construct a 425km transmission line and several substations to connect the wind farm to the national grid.
Private investors have identified Naivasha- deep in the Rift Valley –as the next area of development of a wind power farm.
At the same time, other investors have moved quickly to cash in on this source of energy through the development of generating plants..
Though known for their motor vehicle manufacturing prowess, Toyota Tusho Corporation, which fully owns Toyota East Africa, has announced plans to invest millions of shillings in geothermal and wind power generating plants.
"We expect to be making substantial investment within a few months," said Toyota East Africa chairman Dennis Awori while talking to reporters in Nairobi.
In solar development, the government is to install rooftop panels in 117 schools and health clinics in rural Kenya and especially in areas not connected to the national grid.
The pilot project is to cost $3.63mn and will change the lives of rural households and townships that have never had a power supply.
An additional $6.6mn has been earmarked to expand solar energy availability in remote parts of the country.
Studies have shown that with electricity, school children study longer and that health clinics acquire badly needed equipment to improve the quality of health care.
At a recent visit to Kenya, World Bank Vice President in charge of African Region, Ms Obiageli Ezekwesili said, “At this time when the whole world is grappling with the issue of Climate Change, clean , green and renewable energy is the way to go and will take this country a long way in achieving the Vision 2030.”.