Clean energy from geothermal heat
Frequent power blackouts are causing huge annoyance and frustration to ordinary Kenyans, as well as hindering factories and other businesses. And in recent years, droughts and dry spells have lowered water levels in reservoirs, reducing power generation from hydroelectric dams, which account for more than 60 per cent of Kenya’s electricity supply. Audrey Wabwire visits the Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant in Naivasha to find out about this alternative method of electricity generation, which provides an uninterrupted power supply without emitting harmful quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. She also speaks to Mark Wopicho, whose company WindGen installs small-scale, electricity-generating wind turbines to households, schools and other users in areas where the national electricity grid does not reach.
SFX Water gushing.
Wabwire In Kenya, two-thirds of our electricity is generated using water. Known as hydroelectricity it is not always reliable during droughts as water sources, such as rivers, dry up in the drier seasons diminishing their potential as energy sources. As a developing nation, Kenya needs a regular supply of energy in order to sustain growing industries. Interruption of power can adversely affect the production process of any industry. Kenyans on the ground are also suffering with frequent power cuts.
Liz I am Liz from Narok. I felt bad one day when I was cooking then the lights go off and that day we slept hungry.
Florence My name is Florence. One day I went into the salon, the power went off, I had already washed my hair. So I planned to meet someone, my friend, so I was not happy about it.
Wabwire Alternative sources of energy are being explored in Kenya. One such alternative is geothermal energy, which is sourced from heat deep within the ground. This heat is mined from volcanic areas. The Rift Valley in Kenya is one such region, and the location of the biggest Geothermal Power Plant in Africa - Olkaria 2 Power Station in Naivasha Kenya. Inside Naivasha National Park, huge white pipes winding across the hills and bushes congregate at the power plant where steam gushes from deep within the valleys. The smell of rotten eggs fills the air as gases from under the earth escape into the atmosphere. Here I speak to a technician who explains to me the detailed process of generating electricity from below the ground.
Technician Wells are drilled into the ground to mine steam, hot water and gases.
Wabwire So you pull steam from the ground?
Electrician Yes. The steam is led to the turbines that turn the generator to produce electricity. Then the steam which has been used up by the turbine is later condensed into a hot condensate which is later returned back to the ground to recharge the steam reservoir.
Wabwire Since water is returned to the ground, the wells from which this steam is mined can be used for up to 70 years without worrying about depletion. The concept of geothermal energy remains new to many Kenyans. At the shores of Lake Naivasha, quite close to the Olkaria, I asked a man if he knew about the power plant just across the lake? Have you ever heard of geothermal energy?
Man Is it the one of cow dung?
Wabwire The one from under the ground. Is this familiar to you?
Man So they put the wires in the ground?
Wabwire No they drill and get steam which they use to get power here in Olkaria. Do you know about it?
Wabwire Geothermal energy does not depend on rainfall for production. For this reason, if it is available in sufficient amounts, it is available everyday, all year round. This source of energy is clean because even as it is produced, it does not emit gases that affect the climate adversely. Wind is another resource that is being explored for energy in Kenya, both at a large scale and at household level. Windy areas in highlands and in places that are flat, or next to the sea, are ideal for setting up a wind harvesting scheme. I spoke to Mark Wopicho of WindGen, a Kenyan company that has developed small scale wind turbines which are specifically designed to suit East African conditions. He explained more about his company's approach
Wopicho We are harnessing power from the wind and we are generating electricity using our wind turbines. Our company WindGen Power East Africa is manufacturing wind turbines in Kenya at a mass scale and we are targeting schools, we are targeting homes, we are targeting all areas in Kenya that are off grid that are using diesel generators that do not have access to power and are just clueless where they can get these wind turbines.
Wabwire The cost of small scale renewable energy is still high, so the development of geothermal energy is perhaps more likely to be supported by the Kenyan government as an alternative to hydroelectricity. But can geothermal energy in Olkaria sustain the growing demands of the Kenyan population?
Technician Yes we have enough, more than enough in Kenya to satisfy the demand or to meet the demand of the electricity in Kenya. But the problem that is coming in is that, the problem that we have is that we need a lot of investing to do in terms of the geothermal and the major obstacles that we are facing in the geothermal in the establishing of the geothermal projects is the funds that we require to put up these kinds of projects. But it is true that the geothermal in Kenya can meet the demand of the Kenyans. End of track
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