The use of geothermal energy, or heat contained in rocks and fluids beneath the Earth’s surface, is expanding around the globe. Geothermal energy can generate a continuous supply of heat to power homes and office buildings. It can produce just one-sixth of the CO2 emissions produced in a natural gas plant. Today, geothermal energy in Kenya has emerged as a sustainable power source and contributed to poverty-reduction throughout East Africa.
The Prime Location
To access geothermal energy, production teams dig wells deep into reservoirs of steam and hot water. The method of access limits geothermal energy plants to locations along tectonic plates. For this reason, some have called geothermal energy “the most location-specific energy source” in the world. With an estimated geothermal potential of 10,000 megawatts, the Great Rift Valley in Kenya holds exceptional promise for clean-energy development. The Rift spans nearly 4,000 miles, extending north into Lebanon and south into Mozambique. Situated in the middle of the fault line, Kenya is in a position to harness vast stores of underground energy.
The first geothermal site opened here in 1984, in the region of Olkaria (about 150 miles from the nation’s capital, Nairobi). At the moment, Kenya is working to expand its 23 sites, only four of which contain deep wells. While geothermal power plants in Olkaria maintain a generation capacity of around 700 megawatts and can power nearby major cities, geologists hope to double their impact by 2025.
On Track to a Sustainable Future
Geothermal energy in Kenya remains vital to ensuring a sustainable future nationwide. Unlike natural gas or even solar power, geothermal energy is safe from climatic hazards. In addition, it is available year-round and is relatively low-cost after drilling. Accounting for half the power in Kenya on some days, it has alleviated the national energy shortage. Moreover, it helps provide 75% of Kenyans with access to electricity. This is a significant increase from 56% in 2016.
Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) recognizes the need to implement geothermal energy in sustainability efforts. According to Cyrus Karingithi, Head of Resource Development at KenGen, “We are too dependent on hydropower and this poses a real problem with the repetition of droughts.” Two-thirds of the power in Kenya came from dams in 2010. With the rise of geothermal energy, innovative companies like KenGen have reduced that number to less than 50% and are aiming for 28% by 2024. To achieve their goal, geologists will continue to identify new drilling areas along the fault line.
Harvesting geothermal energy in Kenya provides environmental solutions, and it also stimulates economic growth. As geothermal plants create jobs and power Kenyan businesses, these operations can wield a direct influence on the fight against poverty. For instance, Oserian is one of the leading flower exporters in Kenya. Oserian relies on geothermal energy to heat greenhouses and sell 380 million flower stems each year. In addition, the company can grow new rose varieties with a 24-hour heating supply. The same geothermal plant generates power for 300,000 other small or medium-sized businesses in the area. With a fast-growing economy, Kenya is already moving toward industrialization and modernization. The nation hopes to be an upper-middle-income country within the next decade. Officials remain optimistic that geothermal energy can power burgeoning industries throughout the country.
Leading the Way
Kenya is the leading producer of geothermal energy on the African continent and eighth in the world. The nation has helped set a valuable precedent for building green infrastructure and implementing sustainable poverty-reduction efforts. Additionally, Kenya will soon be in a position to offer other countries its geothermal equipment and expertise. KenGen intends to construct some of the first geothermal plants in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Furthermore, the company has scheduled geoscientific investigations in Rwanda and the Comoros Islands. KenGen has partnered with the Kenyan government, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme to garner support for resource development.
Now more than ever, geothermal energy in Kenya is a promising alternative power source. Though not without its challenges, energy drawn from inside the earth promotes numerous financial and environmental advancements. In the end, geothermal energy can help Kenyans propel themselves and their neighbors down a sustainable path to economic stability.
– Katie Painter