Some of the already installed 155 turbines of the 365 turbines
planned for Lake Turkana Wind Power.
Note: Request for sponsors for seven secondary students from Mukuru slum in Nairobi.
Dorothy Schwartz manages the sponsorship program for a non-profit organization called Living Water Children’s Centre Fund (see www.LWCCFund.org). She is looking for sponsors for the secondary students at Joy House in Makuru, Nairobi. For further information, people may contact her at dorothy@LWCCF.org. A sponsorship is $400 per year which can be divided up in any way that is convenient. To see the short bios and pictures of the seven students needing scholarships, please click on mukuru-scholarship-students-dec-2016
If you haven’t seen the movie, Queen of Katwe, I would suggest that you do. It tells the story of a poor girl from a slum in Kampala who becomes a chess champion. Clearly there is much lost talent and genius in the world’s slums.
Here in Kenya, when I am taking my morning hot shower with our on-demand electric hot water heater, I can feel so virtuous as I am using almost totally renewable energy. Eighty-seven percent of Kenya’s electricity comes from renewable sources – 47% from geothermal and 40% from hydropower sources. There is a small amount from wind power and bio-generation (mostly electricity generated by sugar residue). Unfortunately the remainder is from expensive, polluting diesel generators. The total amount of electricity capacity in Kenya is 2333 megawatts, about the size of one large sized coal power plant in the US.
This Report gives an overview of electric generation in Kenya.
Until recently hydro power was the main source for electricity in Kenya. There are two problems with this. Frist, Kenya is a water-stressed country with no major rivers like the Nile or Congo. Most of the good hydropower sites have already been used so that further expansion can only be through mini-dams (for example, to produce electricity for a tea factory) or through upgrading of the old turbines on the current dams.
The second problem is that about once per decade there is severe drought in Kenya so that the lakes behind the dams drop so low that little or no power can be generated. This then leads to rolling black-outs throughout the country. Gladys and I were here during the 2008/2009 drought and this meant that two or three times per week we would have no electricity during the day.
Geothermal power plant in Olkaria, Kenya.
The Great Rift Valley cuts north to south right through the middle of Kenya. This is where two tectonic plates are slowly spreading apart. The result is that the earth’s crust is thinner than most other places. It is easy to drill holes into the hot earth below and pump hot water/steam to the surface where it turns electric turbines. Kenya is the eighth largest country for geothermal generation of electricity with 544 MW of capacity. There are plans to increase this to 2500 MW by 2022 and 5000 MW by 2030. The estimated geothermal potential is already over 10,000 MW.
The great advantages of geothermal energy are that it is a constant source of electricity 24 hours per day and there is no fuel needed. The great disadvantage is that most of the costs occur upfront so that building a plant requires significant long-term financing. But once the system is built it just hums along. It is projected that geothermal will remain the largest source of electricity in Kenya until at least 2050.
The Lake Turkana Wind Power project, at 310 MW when it is completed in June 2017, will be the biggest wind farm in Africa. It will comprise 365 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 850 KW. Note that compared to wind turbines in the middle of the US, these wind turbines at 850 KW are quite small. The reason for this is that the blades and stands had to be transported 750 miles from the coast in Mombasa to Lake Turkana and it would have been impossible to transport bigger blades.
There is also a 5 MW wind farm on the Ngong Hills near Nairobi which is in the process of adding an additional 20 MW. There are proposals for a number of other wind farms in the country but none of them are in the construction stage yet. Disputes over land issues have delayed/stopped more than one potential wind farm.
This project at Strathmore University is the largest solar project in Kenya at only .6 MW.
Since the equator cuts through the middle of Kenya and there is much available arid and semi-arid land in the country ideal for large solar stations one would think that large solar projects — which are taking off in other parts of the world — would be a natural development in Kenya. Unfortunately, although a number of large solar stations have been proposed, none are even in the financing/construction phase. Perhaps this will change but at the moment Kenya has little plans to promote large scale solar projects.
On the other hand, small scale residential solar is everywhere. Even when we came to Kenya in 2007, my brother-in-law, Samson Kemoli, had a 40 watt solar panel and an old car battery which was sufficient to power some lights, charge the cell phones (high priority), and run a black-and-white TV for a few hours each night. As soon as we arrived in our house in Kenya I bought a 150-watt solar panel with a solar battery which was enough to supply electricity for my laptop, printer, lights, and cell phone charging, but not enough for our color TV, the refrigerator, the on-demand showers, an iron, microwave, or electric oven. It was tremendously useful during the black-outs during the 2008-2009 drought.
Solar lamps, solar panels of any size, solar household systems, and now solar powered refrigerators and TVs can be easily purchased. And people do. In my previous report, I showed how one credit system for a small household system, called M-Kopa, was ripping people off – see http://davidzarembka.com/2016/11/16/369-doing-well-by-doing-good-ripping-off-the-poor-in-east-africa-january-8-2016/. These systems are everywhere and sometimes a household will have two. These are great alternatives to obtaining electricity from the grid.
However, all is not well in paradise.
Kenya is in the process of constructing a 1050 MW coal fired electricity power plant in Lamu on the coast at roughly the cost per megawatt as the Lake Turkana wind farm. The coal plant will have to import its coal from South Africa. There are indications that later the plant might obtain the necessary coal from not-yet-existing coal mines in Kenya, but I have also read that the local coal is not useful for this purpose. In 2013 the Kenyan Government, as part of the many megaprojects planned by the newly elected Kenyatta Government, announced that by 2017 the amount of electricity in the country would rise from 1700 MW to 6700 MW, meaning an additional 5000 MW would need to be built in five years. The Lamu coal plant was part of this expansion.
In much of the rest of the world, coal produced electricity is declining because of its pollution and high carbon dioxide content. Moreover, the government projections for those extra 5000 MW are unrealistically high so that the plant might, like many coal plants in China, become a stranded asset. As I indicated in a previous post (see http://davidzarembka.com/2016/11/17/401-understanding-corruption-august-26-2016/) megaprojects have so many elite beneficiaries that rational arguments are brushed aside as those who would benefit push them through. Already the coal plant is a year behind schedule and is now on hold for environmental reasons as there is mounting opposition to it not only from the environmentalists but also from the local community that will have to live with the pollution the plant produces.
More alarming is a plan to build a 1000 MW nuclear power plant by 2022 — this isn’t going to happen by that date. The cost would be $5 billion which is two and a half times as expensive per MW as the proposed coal fired plant or the Lake Turkana wind plant. Note that the total GNP of Kenya is only $63 billion. Why would anyone want to do this? The long term plan is to have 4 of these nuclear plants by 2030 producing 4000 MW of electricity. Kenya has contracted with a South Korean firm to construct this first plant.
There are three other major problems. First, due to the Rift Valley, Kenya is a very earthquake prone country – about a year ago we felt a small earthquake here in Lumakanda. The second issue is that a nuclear power plant is very water intensive and as I indicated under hydropower, Kenya is already a water-stressed country. This means that the plant would either have to be placed in heavily populated area next to Lake Victoria, which is also earthquake prone, or on the coast where it would be prone to a tsunami. The third consideration is that with Kenya’s reputation for shoddy work and cutting corners (large buildings in Kenya often fall down during construction because of short cuts), there is no certainty that any plant that is built would be structurally sound for the production of nuclear power.
With nuclear and coal let us hope/pray that reason will prevail or that the economics and/or financing of these megaprojects will derail them. If so, Kenya will continue to rely almost exclusively on renewable energy and I will be able to continue to feel virtuous during my morning hot shower.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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