Kenya to build Africa’s largest windfarm

On 27 Jul 2009, the Guardian reported that Kenya is set to build Africa’s largest windfarm as rains fail and hydropower falters in the country.

Summary of the article:

1. 365 wind turbines to be installed in desert around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. When complete in 2012, the £533m project will have a capacity of 300MW, a quarter of Kenya’s current installed power and one of the highest proportions of wind energy to be fed in a national grid anywhere in the world.

2. Until now, only north African countries such as Morocco and Egypt have harnessed wind power for commercial purposes on any real scale on the continent. But projects are now beginning to bloom south of the Sahara as governments realise that harnessing the vast wind potential can efficiently meet a surging demand for electricity and ending blackouts. Ethiopia has commissioned a £190m, 120MW farm in Tigray region, representing 15% of the current electricity capacity, and intends to build several more. Tanzania plans to generate at least 100MW of power from two projects in the central Singida region, more than 10% of the country’s current supply. In March, South Africa, whose heavy reliance on coal makes its electricity the second most greenhouse-gas intensive in the world, became the first African country to announce a feed-in tariff for wind power, whereby customers generating electricity receive a cash payment for selling that power to the grid.

3. Kenya is trying to lead the way. Besides the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project, which is backed by the African Development Bank, private investors have proposed a second windfarm near Naivasha, the well-known tourist town. And in the Ngong hills near Nairobi, six 50m turbines from Vestas were erected in June and will add 5.1MW to the national grid from August. Another dozen turbines will be added at the site in the next few years.

4. Kenya’s electricity is already very green by global standards. Nearly three-quarters of the state power company KenGen’s installed capacity comes from hydropower, and a further 11% from geothermal plants, which tap into the hot rocks a mile beneath the Rift Valley to release steam to power turbines. However, increasingly erratic rainfall patterns and the destruction of key water catchment areas have affected hydroelectricity output. Low water levels caused the country’s largest hydropower dam to be shut down last month.

5. As a short-term measure KenGen is relying on imported fossil fuels, such as coal and diesel. But within 5 years the government wants to drastically reduce the reliance on hydro by adding 500MW of geothermal power and 800MW of wind energy to the grid. Not only are they far greener options than coal or diesel, but the country’s favourable geology and meteorology make them cheaper alternatives over time. The possibility of selling carbon credits to companies in the industrialised world is an added financial advantage. “Kenya’s natural fuel should come from the wind, hot underground rock and the sun, whose potential has barely even been considered,” said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Programme. “After the initial capital costs this energy is free.”

The greening of Africa

At the end of 2008, Africa’s installed wind power capacity was only 593MW. But that is set to change fast. Egypt has declared plans to have 7,200MW of wind electricity by 2020, meeting 12% of the country’s energy needs. Morocco has a 15% target over the same period. South Africa and Kenya have not announced such long-term goals, but with power shortages and wind potential of up to 60GW and 30GW respectively, local projects are expected to boom. With the carbon credit market proving strong incentives for investment other types of renewable energy are also set to take off. Kenya is planning to quickly expanding its geothermal capacity, and neighbouring Rift Valley countries up to Djibouti are examining their own potential. As technology improves and costs fall, solar will also enter the mix. Germany has already publicised plans to develop a €400bn solar park in the Sahara. “Ultimately for Africa solar is the answer, although [costs mean] we may still be decades away,” said Herman Oelsner, president of the African Wind Energy Association.