Kenya’s strategic plan to make much more use of renewable energy resources took another step forward on Jan. 30, when Prime Minister Raila Odinga and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt announced that GE will build a 150-MW wind energy farm in the town of Ngong, 12 miles (19 kms) southwest of Nairobi.
With demand for electricity growing at some 14% per year and the country being heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports, Kenya’s keen to develop a range of renewable energy resources to augment hydroelectricity, which produces nearly half of supply, and reduce fossil fuel imports. The Kenyan government has an national renewable energy plan calling for a minimum of 2 GW of electricity from renewable energy sources to be produced by 2013, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report.
Kenya’s ambitious renewable energy strategy highlights the multiple, reinforcing benefits of developing renewable energy resources for developing countries. Situated astride the East African Rift Zone, geothermal power project development has been at the forefront of Kenya’s renewable energy development initiative, but the country also has significant wind and solar energy resources, and it’s moving forward with plans to develop biogas, biomass, and waste-to-energy projects as well.
Wind Power and a Green Kenyan Energy Sector, Economy
In a somewhat dated paper entitled, “Proposals on the profitable use of the convection wind system in Nyanza Provice of Kenya,” Wimborme Energy Consultancy’s E.G. Matthews wrote,
“It should be noted that countries like Kenya could be in a strong economic position in the next (21st) century as renewable energy sources become more important. The present major industrial powers have based their strength on burning oil and coal. If they can no longer allow themselves to do this because of the environmental effects, the countries which have plenty of solar and wind power will become relatively richer in energy terms than northern hemisphere countries with less solar power.”
Assessing the variety of renewable energy development options open to Kenya, “wind generated electricity ought to be installed on the grounds that it is already profitable at the present low energy prices. As well as on the Kano Plains in Nyanza province, wind energy development may also be viable along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast,” he added.
Matthews goes on to assert that “as energy prices rise the value of the wind energy can only increase while its cost will not rise so much,” adding that “if all these renewable resources are developed, Kenya can look forward to a time when energy imports will become a small proportion of present needs, and even to the possibility of energy exports in the form of hydrogen.”
In his paper, Matthews also devotes a good amount of space to elaborating on the environmental and health benefits of developing renewable energy resources, noting that moving aggressively down this path will have positive local and global effects. Enacting policies to reduce demand for fossil fuels would significantly improve health and environmental conditions, especially in urban centers such as Nairobi. They would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the largest contributor to the greenhouse effect.
Kenya’s Wind Power Geography: “More Useful than an Oilfield”
Wind energy along Kenya’s lakeside Kano plains in Nyanza have traditionally been used on a small scale to pump water for cropland irrigation and domestic consumption, as well as for sailing and producing electricity locally. That’s changing, as Kenya is seeking to supplement and diversify hydroelectricity production and reduce its reliance on heavily polluting, imported fossil fuels.
“The people of the Lake-side plains lands of Kenya live within a potential source of power more useful than an oilfield,” Matthew writes. “Although they have no significant sources of water power or coal they live in what can be described as a giant natural heat engine.
“This is the wind circulation system caused by the difference in temperatures of the sun-baked Kano Plains and the cooler waters of the Lake. Air rises from the plains from about 11.00 a.m. as they heat up; this pulls in air from the lake and a substantial wind blows throughout the area until the land cools down and temperatures equalize at about sunset. Unlike an oilfield this will not be exhausted as long as the sun shines.”
Technological advances in wind turbine efficiency and the reduced cost of smaller-scale generators sets the stage for increased exploitation of this clean, renewable energy resource in the region, Kano noted.
Advantageously comparing the wind system in the Kano Plains area to that of California, he points out that “the daily strength of the wind system is very predictable; the seasonal variation is much less than in California; and most of Kenya’s power comes from water power.”
Significantly, he notes that wind energy, besides being pollution-free, wind energy is a much better means of supplementing grid electricity from hydro resources than thermal coal or diesel electricity. “In practice, allowing for variations in demand throughout the day, as the wind velocity rises the water power would be turned off. Thus the storage function of power would be transferred to the river,” he wrote.
“In the long run this would allow the same quantity of water in the Tana River to produce more electricity than at present by building more generators to use the water saved, when the wind is not blowing. Thermal stations, which cannot be turned on and off easily, can provide a continuous base load as at present (but a combination of water and wind may allow thermal stations, using imported fuel, to be phased out).”
Lake Turkana Wind Power Project
After delays, the most ambitious of Kenya’s wind energy development projects looks set to break ground. At 300 MW, the Lake Turkana wind farm project would be the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, by itself increasing Kenya’s electrical generation capacity by around 25%. The project plan calls for some 365 large-scale, Vestas V52 wind turbines to be installed in desert areas around the lake in northern Kenya. Completion of the project was anticipated in 2012, but that’s been delayed.
Originally announced in 2009, Lake Turkana Wind Power Development Ltd. said it intended to build an $874-million, 300-MW capacity wind farm on the shores of the lake, long famous in the world of anthropology as an archaeological site where evidence of some of the earliest human ancestors have been found.
Guaranteed by an investment group that includes the World Bank, the company needed to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA), and it also needed to secure a power purchase agreement (PPA) with KenGen, the state-owned electric utility. “We are looking at financial close at the end of March, beginning of April and therefore groundbreaking as soon as possible after that,” Lake Turkana Wind Power Ltd. Chairman Carlo van Wageningen was quoted as saying in a Jan. 5 Smart Planet/Reuters report. Completion is now expected by 2013.
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