Kenya’s Geothermal Power Scene

Kenya, the eighth largest geothermal power user globally, is making significant strides in green energy. With more geothermal power capacity under construction than any other country, Kenya aims to double its overall geothermal power output by 2030.

Though Africa only accounts for a tiny percentage of global CO2 emissions, renewables deployment has grown substantially over the last decade, doubling between 2012 and 2022, from 28.45 GW to 58.78 GW, with an average year-on-year growth rate of 7.6%. South Africa has seen the highest growth in generation capacity, followed by Egypt. As of 2021, around 25% of installed capacity on the continent was renewables-based.

Renewables have powered more than 80% of electricity generation in Kenya since 2018, and this share reached 90% in 2020. The renewable electricity sector in Kenya has grown substantially over the last few years, with a compound annual growth rate of 13.1% from 2015 to 2020. Geothermal energy currently accounts for 45% of Kenya’s electricity generation.

Once the current projects are completed, Kenya is set to rank fourth on the global list of geothermal power users, trailing only the United States, Indonesia, and The Philippines. According to data from Global Energy Monitor, Kenya plans to generate over half of its electricity from these sites. This move is not only environmentally conscious but also strategically sound considering the nation’s objective to increase industrial growth, as geothermal power, unlike solar and wind, provides a constant and reliable energy supply.

The geothermal sector also offers substantial employment opportunities, both direct and indirect. Italian energy company estimates indicate that geothermal energy creates approximately 34 jobs per installed megawatt, compared to 19 jobs by the wind sector and 12 by solar photovoltaic installations.

For Africa’s fast-growing economies, expected to reach a population of 1.7 billion by 2030, industries that generate jobs and support the global energy transition are likely to receive preferential treatment from governments and broad societal support.

A power plant of Olkaria |V

Kenya’s geographical position along the East African Rift Valley, one of the world’s most active continental rift zones, provides an advantageous source of this power. According to Peketsa Mangi, a general manager at Kenya Electricity Generating Company, engineers in Kenya can access geothermal sources at relatively shallow depths of around 900 meters, compared to the global average of 3,000 to 4,000 meters.

Kenya’s rapid advancement in energy capacity, having increased by 375% from 2010 to 2022, has fostered world-leading expertise in geothermal site development. Kenyan engineers and project managers now lead geothermal projects from site surveys to environmental impact assessments and plant design, not only within Kenya but also in neighboring nations like Ethiopia and Djibouti. This cross-border collaboration is just the beginning of tapping into East Africa’s geothermal potential.

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that eastern Africa could generate more than 20 gigawatts of electricity from geothermal sites, more than double the current total installed electricity capacity of Kenya and Ethiopia combined. For Kenya, additional geothermal capacity will allow for increased electricity supply without raising fossil fuel use beyond the current levels of around 12%, thereby maintaining one of the cleanest power sectors in Africa.

Kenya’s leadership in alternative energy development is not just a local achievement. As Africa anticipates significant economic growth through 2050, the Kenya-led expansion of geothermal capacity could provide several economies with increased volumes of emissions-free electricity and greater energy independence. This development has the potential to influence global energy markets significantly, making Kenya’s geothermal momentum an issue of international importance.

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