The long-running Olkaria geothermal power project has a dual purpose: to safeguard sustainable, clean power supplies in Kenya and to decrease dependency on less-environment-friendly fossil fuels from abroad.
Conventional energy sources, like fossil fuel and weather-dependent hydropower, are struggling to keep up with Kenya’s power requirements and can be environmentally costly. The Olkaria geothermal field in the Rift Valley provides a rich source of energy from heat stored in the earth. It is helping to make up Kenya’s power deficit, with a potential eventual output of 2 000 MWe of geothermal energy.
The Olkaria geothermal field covers an area of approximately 70 km2. Twenty sites have been identified as worthy of further investigation. Meanwhile, the three sites already developed are becoming increasingly productive as new techniques and production systems become available.
Exploration started at Olkaria I back in 1956 and culminated in the construction of the first geothermal plant in 1981 at Olkaria I. A second plant, Olkaria II was co-financed by the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, KfW of Germany and the Kenyan Government. Olkaria II is Africa’s largest geothermal power station, producing 70 MWe. Olkaria III is the first private geothermal power plant in Kenya and is expected to generate 48 MWe when fully developed.
Tapping into renewable energy from the earth
By tapping into this locally available and renewable geothermal energy, Olkaria will both reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and improve Kenya’s power supply, which is still highly dependent on hydrological conditions as the majority of electricity generated comes from hydropower (677 of 1 198 MW). Olkaria also contributes very positively to carbon reduction targets and is expected to qualify for the provision of carbon credits within the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
The provision of geothermal energy is moreover expected to reduce the cost of power to the end-user, which will help to hold down the cost of electricity to consumers as well as to industry.