Kenya in big shift to renewable energy in climate change fight

The Olkaria geothernal plant in Naivasha
The Olkaria geothernal plant in Naivasha. PHOTO/FILE
Hydroelectric power has for a long time been the main source of energy in Kenya, accounting for about half of the installed capacity.

But changes in climatic conditions and the subsequent unreliable rainfall has forced the Kenyan government to invest heavily in energy technologies from renewable sources such as geothermal, solar and wind.

Kenya is the first African country to tap geothermal power, which currently accounts for over 50 per cent of the total installed power capacity overtaking hydropower as the leading energy source.

Geothermal power
Geothermal power is developed from steam generated from heat and pressure deep in the earth’s core in volcanic active areas at Olkaria and Menengai in the Rift Valley.

The injection of 636 MW into the national grid has reduced the cost of energy by between 25 to 30 per cent.

Development of geothermal power is, however, far from complete as Kenya plans to increase production to 5530 MW in the next 3-4 years, according to its Vision 2030.

Wind power
Wind power in Kenya remains largely undeveloped though there are major projects underway to tap into the potential exhibited in the northern parts of the country which record winds with average annual speeds of 6.72m/s at 50m high.

Ngong power station, with a capacity of 25 MW, is the only wind farm currently integrated into the national grid system.

Lake Turkana wind power project, the largest wind power scheme in Africa, is set to start producing power later this year. It comprises 365 wind turbines which will deliver a total of 310 MW to the national grid increasing the country’s capacity to 2340 megawatts.

The project will benefit an estimated 2.5 million Kenyans and save the country over 177 million dollars annually on fuel imports. Other projects in the pipeline include the Kipeto Wind Power Project (100MW), Meru Wind Power Station (150mw) and Lamu Wind Farm (90MW).

Solar energy
In the last one decade, the solar energy sector has become vibrant bolstered by the need to supply clean energy to homes and institutions located in remote areas which are not connected to the national power grid.

Kenya is the global leader in the sector boasting of the highest installation of solar power systems per capita. Most parts of the country enjoy a lot of sunshine throughout the year making solar power cheap and reliable.

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Solar projects range from large scale productions which are connected to the national grid, village level mini grids, institutional systems, home panel systems to the small applications such as lanterns, study lamps, phone chargers and torches common in poor urban dwellings and rural homes.

The 55MW Garissa Solar Park and Kopere Solar Plant in Nandi County are some of the major solar power projects in the country.

Kenya has put in place several incentives to encourage private investors in the renewable energy sector in a bid to propel its Vision 2030 goal of producing 19,200 MW against a projected demand of 15,000 MW.

The government has removed value added tax and zero rated import duty on all renewable energy systems imported into the country.

It also developed a Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) policy providing for a fixed tariff of up to $12 cents per kilowatt-hour supplied to the grid in bulk to encourage production of wind energy.