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BusinessKenya excels in geothermal power, Ethiopia lags

Kenya excels in geothermal power, Ethiopia lags

Closing in on a deal that guarantees the construction of the sixth geothermal power projects, Kenya eyes top position to become one of the few geothermal power hubs in the world with potential of 10,000MW of generating capacity. Nevertheless, Ethiopia is still contemplating its first geothermal project in the country with the help of government of Japan and other international agencies.

During a site visit of the proposed geothermal power projects in Kenya, The Reporterwas also given access by the government of Japan to witness the progress of the projects in Olakaria, in Naivasha town, some 91kms to the Northwest of Nairobi.

Already, Kenya has built five major geothermal power plants in Olakira with a combined installed capacity of 600MW.

Run by Kenya Electricity Generating Company Ltd (KenGen), 70 percent share owned by the state, Olkaria plant constitutes 27 percent share of the total electric power generated in the country. Cyrus Karingith, general manager of infrastructure development at the KenGen, told The Reporters that the new Olkaria V plant which is planned to generate some 140MW geothermal power is estimated to have a cost of five to six billion Yen or between 350 to 450 million dollars towards which both the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) contributed, Keringith said. 

Only 5kms away from the power transmission line intended to adjoin Kenya with Ethiopia, via Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower Power Plant, Naivasha is home for hot springs and thermal sites created by the existing active volcanic activity in the area. Accordingly, Karingith, also a scientist in the geothermal field, estimates that Kenya is blessed to have a potential of 10,000MW geothermal potential. He claims that the country stands number eight in the world in geothermal power generation potential.

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Since 1981, where the first geothermal power had become operational in Kenya and by extension in Africa, the government of Japan has been involved in assisting such projects deemed environmentally friendly. In addition, companies such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi Power Systems, Toshiba Corporation and Fuji Electric Corporation are involved in supplying technologies suited for geothermal projects and the like. According to Karingith, Mitsubishi and Toshiba had installed steam turbines and generators in Olkaria Geothermal Plant I, which still stand efficient after 35 years of service.

Back home, launched in 2010, the expansion of the Aluto-Langano geothermal power plant is expected to boost the existing 7MW plant to 70MW geothermal electric power plant.

The expansion project is expected to be financed by a 12 million dollar grant from the government of Japan, a 13 million dollar loan from the World Bank and 10 million from the government. Located in the Rift Valley Lakes Region, the Aluto Langano Geothermal Power Plant is the first geothermal power plant in Ethiopia. According to the information posted on the website of the Ethiopian Electric Power, the plant was established in 1998 as a pilot project to test the geothermal resources in the area.

Back in 2015, while celebrating a successful steam discharging process, Kazuhiro Suzuki, Ambassador of Japan to Ethiopia said that the project was halted for ten months following pertinent challenges it faced during the test drilling stages. “Well drilling started in November 2013, but after then, the drilling work encountered a series of challenges and was suspended for 10 months. To tackle those challenges, the Japanese and the Ethiopian sides worked together. From a technical aspect, this well is the first geothermal well in Ethiopia drilled using directional drilling technology,” the ambassador said.

Through the implementation stages, many state-of-the-art geothermal technologies were transferred from Japan to the Ethiopian engineers, the ambassador noted further.  

The country has set targets to generate 1,100MW power from two geothermal plants, Tendaho and Corbeti geothermal plants, by the end of 2030. The Tendaho power plant to be developed in the Afar Regional State, north eastern part of the country, will have a capacity to generate 100MW.

It is also to be remembered that the government has signed agreement with Reykjavik Geothermal (RG), a U.S.-Icelandic private developer, to construct a geothermal power plant. The Corbeti geothermal project which RG is expected to develop will require some four billion dollars with 1,000MW installed capacity. The projects is planned to be commenced in two phases, each having 500 MW installed capacity and be finalized in ten years’ time. It is estimated that Ethiopia has a generating potential of 5,000MW.

Dalol, Tendaho, Abi, Tiye, Meleka, Dafan, Fentale, Gedemesa, Tulu, Moye, Aloto Langano, Corbeti, and Abaya are among the places identified with vast geothermal potential in Ethiopia.

That said, Kenya targets to reduce power generation from hydro projects as stipulated by the country’s Vision 2030, Karingith noted. In the targeted period, the country envisages to develop 35,000MW. Hence, the government has introduced a system called a “40-month strategy” where production of 5,000MW will ensure reduction of electric tariffs by half in less than four years.  Both Ethiopia and Kenya currently have been able to develop some 2,000MW electricity mostly from hydro power.

However, in Ethiopia the government is set to revise and increase the existing tariffs which the government says way lesser than the cost of production. Nevertheless, compared to Kenya, power tariff remains somehow lower in Ethiopia.

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