The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) has announced a plan to rehabilitate some of its geothermal power plants and upgrade others as part of its strategy to add 400 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power to the national grid in the next five years.
KenGen Acting Managing Director, Mr. Abraham Serem said the Company has launched an aggressive strategy to grow power supply in the country ahead of annual demand estimated at eight per cent per annum.
Mr. Serem indicated that the targeted output once achieved would completely Phase-Out thermal power, adding that Kenya has set a target of five (5) gigawatts (GW) geothermal capacity by the year 2030.
“With the new machines and upgraded turbines, we will generate more power using similar amounts of steam, hence greater efficiency in utilizing resources,” said the Acting Managing Director, while adding that new technologies offer more flexibility in maintenance.
While indicating that the company had intensified exploration around Olkaria and Eburru, Mr Serem revealed in a press statement that Expression of Interest(EOI) had been invited for rehabilitation of Olkaria I power generation plant and upgrading of systems at Olkaria IAU 4 and 5 and Olkaria IV to increase their capacities.
“Considering that the project life of the original design of Olkaria I including units1, 2 and 3 is 40 years old, the plant is already overworked,” said Mr. Serem, adding that the plant’s maintenance costs had grown even as electricity production dropped.
The rehabilitation will also involve the change of steam turbines and installation of new electrical systems.
A turbine, which is the single most expensive equipment in a geothermal plant, converts steam to mechanical energy and passed through generators to produce electricity. Kenya is currently ranked the ninth largest producer of geothermal electricity in the world and the leader in Africa.
According to Mr. Serem, the completion of the upgrade and rehabilitation will enhance volume and security of electric power supply in Kenya and thereby create a conducive environment for investments.
Kenya has in recent years switched focus to geothermal energy, which is unaffected by weather unlike hydropower, and is three times cheaper compared to thermal power.
“Olkaria I has been producing 45 megawatts since it was commissioned 40 years ago. By addressing the years of wear and tear and restoring the plant to its former glory, KenGen projects to pump 50.7 megawatts to the national grid from the facility once it is fully refurbished,” added the Managing Director.
He said upgrading of systems at Olkaria IAU 4 and 5 and Olkaria IV was designed to increase their capacities from the current 280 MW to 320 MW.
“KenGen has increased its efforts in production of more power to meet growing demand and this has to coincide with installation of new equipment or upgrading the already existing ones,” said Mr. Serem.
He observed that by 2025, the Company targets 40MW from turbine upgrading and 50MW from well head leasing around the geothermal rich area of Olkaria.
The Managing Director indicated that geothermal energy output in the country had risen from 45 megawatts in 1985 to 799 megawatts currently, with KenGen, identifying 23 spots in the country that had high potential for green energy
According to the Renewables Global Status 2021, Kenya tops in Africa with 799 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power.
The US has the largest geothermal generating capacity with 2,500 megawatts followed by the Philippines (1,900 MW), Indonesia (1,800 MW), Turkey (1,100 MW), New Zealand (1000 MW), Mexico (900 MW), Italy (800 MW) and Iceland (750 MW).
Kenya beats technological heavyweight Japan which has been ranked tenth with an output of 500 MW.
The rest of the world shares 950 MW. Ethiopia is the only other African country with developed geothermal energy (7 MW).
Geothermal is widely considered a preferable, low-cost renewable energy source due to low emissions when compared to thermal sources.
It is also cheaper than thermal power when used as an alternative to mitigate depressed hydropower generation due to drought. Kenya has a target of five (5) gigawatts (GW) geothermal capacity, which it hopes to achieve by the year 2030.
Green energy power plants under development in Kenya include the 300 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Plant, which is the single largest wind power plant in Africa, the 70 MW Olkaria 1 and the 140 MW OlKaria V.
Meanwhile, KenGen reported a Sh4.7 billion (approx. USD 38.3 million) profit, for the period ending on June 30, 2022. The tax reduction from the commissioning of the 86-MW Olkaria I Unit 6 contributed to this 157 percent year-on-year profit increase.
Revenues continued to grow from the company’s investments in geothermal, despite low generation from hydropower plants.
Mr. Serem noted that KenGen had embraced innovation and important business fundamentals and innovation, in its expansion strategy.
“We are pleased to report growth in profit after tax for the year ended June 30, 2022, despite prolonged drought which has affected hydropower generation, during the period under review. We look forward to a promising year ahead buoyed by expected increased economic activities.” added Serem.
By Jane Ngugi and Charloth Chepkemoi