Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) along with the Ministry of Energy officially launched the 140MW Olkaria I Additional Units 4&5, which marked the final phase of the 280MW geothermal power project. The 140MW Olkaria I Additional Units 4&5 was inaugurated in the presence of President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. The completion of the project is a key step towards fulfilling the Government plan of generating 5000MW by 2017.
The 280MW geothermal power project is made up of four units each generating 70MW; Olkaria IV which generates 140MW and the Olkaria I units 4&5 producing 70MW. Considered the largest single geothermal project in the world, the project has already been adding geothermal energy to national grid. In 2014, the plant added 315MW of geothermal energy which led to the considerable decline of electricity cost. Electricity has reduced by more than 30 percent and according to KenGen, the geothermal plant is saving Kenya KES 2.2 billion ($24 million) per month on fuel costs. Thus far, fuel costs have declined by 65 percent. Among other thing, the money saved is expected to rehabilitate the mechanically deteriorate Olkaria I which is 30 years old.
The journey towards decentralizing and diversifying renewable energy power in Kenya has been fundamental in cost reduction as well as curbing power unreliability. Geothermal energy is aiding in stabilizing the country’s power supply by shifting away from over-reliance on thermal sources for power. Thermal power generation is diesel-fired and thus more expensive. In fact, diesel generation costs about Sh30 per kWh while the cost of geothermal power ranges between Sh7.12 and Sh8.01 per KWh. Geothermal is one of the cheapest renewable sources of energy both in the country and in the world.
In effect, geothermal energy is helping the economy in terms of saving of foreign exchange. Moreover, due to low water levels in major dams, there is constant erratic hydro-power generation. However, due to geothermal energy, the country has not experienced power rationing in spite of low water levels in the hydro generation dams. Geothermal energy now accounts for 51 percent of the national generation mix and in six months has averaged 41 percent.
Geothermal energy is generated by harnessing geothermal (heat energy) energy from the earth. According to a United States Government energy agency, the total energy available from global geothermal resources is about 15,000 times the energy contained in all the known oil and gas reserves in the world. Despite this, geothermal electricity generation is available in only 24 countries. Kenya was actually the first African country to tap geothermal power. Geothermal development has been around for some time; in 1956 the first three wells to be drilled in Olkaria. Currently, there are 233 wells in Olkaria and more to come along with the next phase of the project that include the implementation of 350MW comprising Olkaria I, Olkaria V and Olkaria VI.
The KES 91billion ($1 billion) project was funded by the Kenyan Government who contributed KES 29 billion ($320 million) for drilling the wells. Others who financed the project were AFD, JICA, KfW, World Bank, and KenGen. The project involved drilling 59 wells, as well as building associated infrastructure such as steam gathering systems, substations, feeder transmission line, and the like.
The completion of the 280MW geothermal power project was met with praise from a variety of companies including; the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Green Energy Group, Toshiba, Epco Builders LTD and a myriad of others.