Kenya is known to be the first African country to tap into geothermal power to meet the electricity needs of its population. And when the expanded Olkaria geothermal plant becomes fully operational this year, it is expected to produce an additional 280 MW of energy, increasing Kenya’s electricity output.
The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) has so far built two plants to exploit the Olkaria geothermal resource, which includes Olkaria 1 generating 45 MW and Olkaria 2, generating 65 MW while the third privately owned Olkaria 3, generates 48 MW, giving a total of 200 MW of installed geothermal capacity, set to increase soon.
Yet, Kenya is expected to produce 5,500MW of geothermal power, making the country the largest source of clean energy in the next 15 years. As a step forward, in 2010, environmental impact assessments were conducted in the area that showed that previous geothermal plants had not negatively impacted the environment, making the government give a “go ahead” of Olkaria’s expansion set to be complete by end of 2014.
Worldwide, according to the CIA World Fact Book, at least 23 million GWh (Gigawatt hour) of power is produced, with China leading, producing 5,361,600 GWh. Kenya ranked 102nd on the list, still has a long way to go, as it produces 7,330GWh of electricity mainly coming from hydroelectric power, geothermal power, solar and wind energy.
In terms of geothermal energy, the Olkaria dam has come a long way. While its first phase was successfully completed in 1980, the government reserved 64 square kilometers of land in the vicinity, to become Hell’s Gate National Park. The agreement was that the park was to be restricted for wild animals, while KenGen would dig diagonally and access the pools of energy that lay underground, of which, is still continues to come to play.
Years later, in 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between KenGen and the Kenyan Wildlife Service in which, it was agreed that KenGen would pay a sublease fee to KWS but it remain exempt from paying land rates within the Park. Thus, this opened up the potential for drilling wells in an area that was previously reserved for wildlife and tourism purposes.
On a positive note besides supplying Kenya’s electricity needs, the geothermal plant has left the impression that it would provide a green form of energy, leaving the wildlife in the area in peace. However, environmentalists have complained that the expansion of Olkaria geothermal plant will cut Hell’s Gate National Park by half, in turn affecting tourism.
Amidst concerns, as the geothermal expansion is currently being carried out, the Kenya government has set its target of being able to create 500 MW of geothermal energy by 2017.