Kenya's untapped geothermal energy more than enough to power entire nation
African country can reap riches from volcanic activity
Among the countries in Africa with the potential to become an economic powerhouse, Kenya's vast geothermal energy - which located near a hotbed of volcanic activity called "The Great Rift," has more than enough power to light up the entire nation, and then some.
The majority of Kenya's energy needs are currently met by hydroelectric power. Hydropower is diminished during rain shortages, leading to Kenya's regular blackouts. Photo: Geothermal Power Plant.
Near the town of Naivasha, KenGen Drilling Superintendent Isaac Kirimi declares the starkness of a nearby landscape. "This is like a live volcano! You can easily convince someone you're in hell," he said. KenGen is Kenya's leading power company.
Kirimi notes that the surrounding rocks underfoot are still soft. He's in search of a small bushy plant known as geothermal grass, which thrives in high ground temperatures.
"It is normally used by scientists to give them an indication of where there is potential for geothermal resources," Kirimi says. "A scientist is like a wild person. You are imagining things and now trying to transfer that imagination. And try to convince someone to invest in that is not very easy."
More than 30 years after KenGen built its first geothermal plant here, investment in renewable energy is booming. Aided by government support, KenGen is ramping up geothermal production.
"The cost of drilling can be prohibitive: the drilling costs, the power plant costs, and interconnecting all of these wells. Once you do that, you have nothing else to do for the next 25 years.except build another one. But we know the source is the center of the earth, so there will always be energy," Geoffrey Muchemi, a development manager at KenGen says.
The majority of Kenya's energy needs are currently met by hydroelectric power. Hydropower is diminished during rain shortages, leading to Kenya's regular blackouts.
In order to harness geothermal energy, wells are first dug more than two kilometers into the earth's surface. The steam released by the wells is monitored for several months. If the hot water and steam is found to be exploitable, they are extracted from the well. The steam travels through pipes to a power plant, where it is converted into electrical energy. The water is re-injected into the earth.
KenGen is also developing a geothermal spa near the wells. It features a large pool with mineral-rich waters, modeled after the Blue Lagoon in Iceland where many KenGen engineers studied.
Not all Kenyans are enthusiastic about the expansion of geothermal energy.
"The Masaai live inside the outer crater rim. In the inner crater rim, nobody lives there," Reuben Sempui of the Masaai community says. He lives on Mt. Suswa, the site of a proposed geothermal project. "So these are the manyattas [homesteads] where the Masaai live."
Sempui's community faces displacement if the project goes ahead. Members of the community are negotiating with KenGen, demanding employment opportunities and a share of the revenue generated by the well.
© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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