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Kenya in advance talks with partners to upscale geothermal power

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By Steve Umidha

Kenya will advance talks with various African nations to boost the country’s installed geothermal power which presently accounts for 29.4 percent of Kenya’s grid capacity.

Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter on Monday said that such talks will include deepening cooperation in skill, capacity and technology transfer among African countries as the continent aims to achieve at least 2,500megawatts (MW) of geothermal power by 2030.

“This Conference provides Kenya with a platform to build partnerships with other African countries who are in various stages of geothermal development, and to deepen cooperation in skill, capacity and technology transfer,” Keter said during the Eighth African Rift Geothermal Conference (ARGEO C8) last week.

Kenya began exploring geothermal power in the late 1970s, and according to the Geothermal Council Resource – a US industry association, the rise of Kenya’s geothermal industry ranks ninth in the world.

By 2030 the country aims to have 5,530 MW of geothermal power or 51 per cent of total capacity. This will make it Kenya’s largest source of electricity clean energy by 2030. It aims to expand its geothermal power production capacity to 5,000 MW during that period.

The East African nation has successfully harnessed its geothermal capabilities, generating an estimated 828 MW, with nearly 400 MW of that production coming online since 2014.

Wind energy accounts for 335MW or 11.88 per cent of total capacity installed in the national grid while solar energy accounts for 50MW or 1.77 per cent against total capacity installed 2,651 MW, with peak demand of 1,912 MW, as of November 2019. Hydro power comprises 52.1 per cent of total installed capacity.

The announcement comes amid concerns that the country is exploring the possibility of building an estimated Sh540 billion nuclear power plant on the Tana River, despite growing reservations over environmental and safety issues as well as cost implications against the nuclear electricity option.

Two months ago, the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) submitted a regulatory filing to National Environment Management Authority (Nema) for an initial 1,000 megawatts (MW) which it says could be quadrupled by 2035 – but experts believe this is a total waste of time and taxpayers money.

Hindpal Jabbal, an independent energy consultant in a phone interview with this writer, said Kenya does not need a nuclear energy plant at this point, arguing that to put up a 1,000MW nuclear plant, the country will need to have a demand of about 20,000MW to warrant such a move – arguing that the move was meant to keep the Nuclear board happy while at the same time misleading Mwananchi.

“This is a complete waste of time, people sitting at the top are misleading the country, we will need to have a robust industrialization industry if we are to meet the needed demand, right now we don’t have it,” says Jabbal, who calls the move, a total ‘bullshit”.

It is also felt that a chunk of the suggested Sh540 billion meant for the ambitious project could fall into wrong hands, a recurring theme over the last few years which has seen taxpayers cough billions of shillings to non-existent development projects at inflated costs whose proceeds have ended up in the pockets of a few beneficiaries.

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