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Geothermal Key to Local Power Needs

Oct 9, 2008 - The Nation/All Africa Global Media

Kenya's huge potential in geothermal energy remains untapped even as the country grapples with high electricity costs.

Energy permanent secretary Patrick Nyoike told the National Energy Conference at Kenyatta International Conference Centre on Wednesday that geothermal power held the key to a rapid increase in power.

However, out of the estimated geothermal potential of 7000 MW, only 130 MW had been developed, at Olkaria geothermal field.

He said two power plants of 35 MW each were currently under construction and one of them is expected to be commissioned by the end of this month by an Independent Power Producer.

The other is being constructed by electricity generator KenGen and is expected to be commissioned mid-2010.

Mr Nyoike said 42 wells will be required to support the planned development of the Olkaria IV geothermal plant.

"Drilling for steam is in progress using resources provided by the ministry of Energy in this year's budget," Mr Nyoike said.

He said to drilling a well costs an estimated Sh400 million ($5.5 million) and seven wells had been drilled. He said this will increase the wells to 17, of which six are appraisal wells drilled earlier at a cost of Sh4.2 billion.

Mr Nyoike said to provide the required amount of steam, 25 more wells will have to be drilled at a cost of Sh10 billion bringing the total expenditure to Sh17 billion and the number of wells to 42.

He said although the drilling of wells was expensive, it was cheaper to use geothermal steam production to produce electricity as opposed to using fossil fuels.

For example, he said, a 140MW fuel oil-fired medium-speed diesel plant consumes 219,000 tonnes of fuel every year.

At a crude oil price of $73.70 per barrel, it would take two years and nine months to spend Sh17 billion on fuel for this plant. This is the amount that is needed to drill wells at Olkaria and fully exploit the potential.

Mr Nyoike said during the medium term plan of Vision 2030, at least 350 MW of geothermal power will be developed.

The areas identified are Longonot (140 MW), Menengai (140 MW), Suswa (70MW) and North Rift (140MW).

He said because most of the drilling work for steam has a lead time of five years, most of the drilling has to be completed by 2012.

"We therefore have to source for funds to undertake a comprehensive and sustained drilling campaign. At least Sh12 billion is required every year," Mr Nyoike said.

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