Q.Kindly introduce yourself and give us a brief bio of yourself, your roles past and present
My name is Ronoh Kibet, geothermal project engineer at Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), a leading power producer in East Africa. My main task at KenGen is to plan, monitor and evaluate geothermal projects in an effort to provide clean and more reliable source of energy in Kenya. I obtained my first degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). I am currently undertaking my Masters Degree in Project Management. Prior to this, I did my higher diploma in Management Information Systems at Strathmore University. I am also a certified Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) project system consultant.
Q.What is the overview of the current power mix in the country and what role does geothermal power play in it?
I believe the energy sector is one of the most vibrant sectors in the country. The power mix in the country is really challenging at the same time exciting at this time. If you take a look at the ambitious plan that Kenya has put in place to generate 5,000MW of power in 40 months. Looking at our current power mix, we see close to over 58% of hydro being used due to weather fluctuations. This in turn also forces use of thermal energy to compensate for the fluctuations incurred by hydro. We want to have several alternatives energy sources to make our national grid more reliable. The beauty and role of the power mix in the country is that it addresses the energy dilemma. Geothermal energy is clean, reliable and renewable so we are looking at having an energy solution that will be of great benefit to the society. Compared to other sources of energy that we have, I would say geothermal is the most stable source of energy and we are pleased that the government is investing in it.
KenGen’s role in the 5000MW+ Kenya govt. strategy 2018(Source: KenGen)
Q. Take us through the process of geothermal power production- from design to implementation. (Explained as simply/detailed as possible).
The geothermal process entails first having our geoscientist going into the field to access the resource for exploitation. Once they have identified an area and have seen there is an indication we could have geothermal activity, they do what is called well siting. From there they (geoscientists) review the area and target fractures under the earth where they are likely to intercept steam from which electricity can be generated. After this, the drilling team comes in to create a well pad or access point where the drill will sit. When a well pad is in position, there is a cilium made at the center which will ideally spud into a focal point where the rig locks the ground for drilling to begin. The rig will drill to a level of 3,000 or 3,500 meters to target the fracture that the geoscientists had tried to discover earlier.The drilling process could take close to 60 days however, due to our refined training and learning camp at KenGen, the duration is shortened to 30 days to accomplish the process.
Later, we are able to perform a completion test once the well has been drilled. The test involves checking the temperature and pressure of the well just after completing the drilling process. The completion test forms a baseline from where we will be able to follow through the readings to understand the characteristics and parameters of the geothermal well. Testing of the well is done for a period of three months to ascertain the output for that duration and ensure a well can generate for example, an output of 15MW. At KenGen, we have hit quit a number of mega watts, for instance, we have had one well doing 18MW and another 30MW which is a great achievement. Our estimation is that each well should do 5MW but when we get one doing 30MW, we have saved a substantial amount of money that could be used to drill six wells instead of five wells. In addition, we have had a good track record of drilling less wells but achieving higher outputs. For example, Olkaria I, Unit 6 we had earlier targeted 84MW but managed to do 70MW through less wells. Once drilling is complete and successful, we try and pull in all the wells using the steam fields and channel the wells to the power plant where they turn a turbine and generate electricity to the grid.
Q. Describe 3 major projects you have been on (Name, production process, potential capacities)
Kenya plans generate 5,000MW of power by 2017 and KenGen will help by contributing 700MW of geothermal power to attain the required mega watt. The projects that I have been involved include: Olkaria 1& IV, 280MW and Olkaria I additional unit 4 and 5, 140MW each that we recently completed and launched. We are looking forward to completing power deficit of 420MW through our Olkaria 1, unit 6 which should generate 70MW as Olkaria 5 and 6 are each doing 140MW. Olkaria 1, unit 6 has already confirmed steam.
We are also embracing the concept of leasing of wellheads generator to try and utilise wells that are outside the perimeter of conventional power plants as well as try to utilise wells that are of low pressures. We also invite manufacturers to lease us equipments that can generate power during special conditions. With this strategy, we will have optimised and utilised the wells effectively as well as added more power to the grid.
Q.What new technologies are you using and what impact do they have?
In energy, we look at technologies that enhance efficiency. For instance Olkaria 1, the first power plant to run in Kenya, we considered every turbine to produce 15MW, Olkaria II 35MW and beyond Olkaria II, each unit is doing 70MW. Thus, better technologies results to greater achievements of output among the plants hence more efficiency will be attained. This means you consume less steam and generate more. Other technologies include binary or total flow but as KenGen we have embraced the back pressure technology.
Q.What are some of the challenges faced while implementing these projects?
The two main challenges faced in geothermal development is financial resources and land acquisition. When one looks at the capital demands of these projects, you realize you need major financiers to pool resources together to actualize these plants. Sourcing of these finances is a major challenge especially with the conditions that World Bank and JICA provide. The second challenge is land acquisition. We need to get new areas to drill and this affects people who have settled there. There is a process that needs to be followed in terms of compensation and land resettlement.
Q.What kinds of engineers/ personnel do you work with in these projects and what roles do they play to realize the successful implementation of these projects?
KenGen is one of the biggest employers in Kenya and it looks at employing engineers or scientific professionals from different fields. KenGen invites engineers from all fields including electrical, mechanical, and electromechanical among others to be able to contribute to the implementation of the projects.
Q.What is your take on the current efforts to add 5000MW of power into the national grid by 2017?
I must laud the government for its ambitious plan to add 5,000MW of power into the national grid within 40 months. I look at the demand of energy being created based on availability of that energy. By availing that energy we are able to build demand. Investors wishing to invest in this country are looking at the availability of energy therefore; this ambitious plan opens more doors for this country. For example, South Africa had excess energy but currently they are load shedding because in every development of energy, people are consuming it. Also, the ambitious plan is of regional importance to Kenya. We do not need a grid where we rely on only one source of energy; we need to embrace other forms of energy such as wind, solar and nuclear.
Q.What are some of the factors that have propelled Kenya into one of the global powers when it comes to geothermal power production?
This can be successfully accredited to good policy and leadership offered by the government. Government leadership has provided a platform which fosters geothermal development. Looking at the leadership in our company, we have professionals and people who are fit to undertake different projects due to its internal policies and mentorship programs offered by KenGen. In addition, government has created policies and support to make Kenya a global geothermal producer.
Q. What are some of the challenges you have faced toward harnessing geothermal power to power the country?
As an engineer when challenges occur, one gets excited. While working on delivering these projects, one realizes maybe some configurations are wrong; one will have to repeat the process all over again to find solutions. Other challenges experienced include infrastructure or equipment breakdown but we are always prepared to restore operations to normal and with the lowest down time possible.
Q. What is the future of power production in Kenya especially geothermal power?
I must admit that we still have a long way to go and we need to have more geothermal fields in this country. Kenya is capable of producing even more than 5,000MW with proper investment in place.
Facts: KenGen installed capacity is 1,575MW whereby geothermal capacity is 473MW and national capacity is 2152MW