Kenya bets big on wind energy

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Kenya is set to become the site of Africa’s most ambitious venture in the battle against global warming when it builds Africa’s biggest windfarmWith surging demand for power and incessant blackouts across the country, Kenya is looking to solar, wind and geothermal technologies to meet its energy needs.

Some 365 giant wind turbines are to be installed around Lake Turkana, creating the biggest windfarm on the continent.

When complete in 2012, the Sh67.158 billion project will produce nearly 300MW, a quarter of Kenya’s current installed power capacity and one of the highest proportions of wind energy to be fed in a national grid anywhere in the world.

Commercial Value
To date, only North African countries such as Morocco and Egypt have harnessed wind power for commercial purposes on any meaningful scale on the continent.

Besides the Turkana project, which is being backed by the African Development Bank, private investors have proposed establishing a second windfarm near Naivasha.

In the Ngong Hills, Vestas, a Danish company has started putting up six 50m turbines which will add 5.1MW to the national grid from August. The work started in July with another dozen turbines to be added at the site in the next few years. The Dutch consortium behind the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project has leased 66,000 hectares of land on the eastern edge of the world’s largest permanent desert lake.

Proven Reserves
The volcanic soil is scoured by hot winds that blow consistently year round through the channel between the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands. According to LTWP, which has an agreement to sell its electricity to the Kenya Power & Lighting Company, the average wind speed is 11metres per second, something akin to ‘proven reserves’ in the oil sector, said Carlo Van Wageningen, chairman of the company.

“We believe that this site is one of the best in the world for wind,” he said. If the project succeeds, the company estimates that there is the potential for the farm to generate a further 2,700MW of power, some of which could be exported.

LTWP also plans to construct a 266-mile transmission line and several substations to connect the windfarm to the national grid. In a move aimed at benefiting local communities, the consortium has promised to supply electricity to the closest local towns, currently powered by generators.

Kenya’s electricity is already green by global standards. Nearly three-quarters of KenGen’s installed capacity comes from hydropower, and a further 11 per cent from geothermal plants, which tap into the hot rocks a mile beneath the Rift Valley to release steam to power turbines.

Currently, demand for electricity far much outstrips its supply, a situation that has served to beat the purpose of rural electrification – a project otherwise meant to light up vast rural areas in the country.

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