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Chinese-funded geothermal power plant hastening Kenya's clean energy switch

Updated: August 24, 2023 Source: Xinhua News Agency
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NAIROBI, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- Kenya's economic growth, ranked among the fastest in Africa, has been accompanied by a steady rise in demand for electricity, necessitating the urgency to explore greener and cheaper sources of power.

According to the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, a state agency, peak demand for electricity in Kenya has increased by an average of 3.1 percent annually and currently exceeds 2,000 megawatts (MW).

Kenya, like many other African countries, has not been spared the challenge of energy shortage, with government statistics indicating that about 25 percent of the East African country's population lacks electricity connection.

In addition, power supply disruptions linked to drought and the high cost of maintaining diesel-fired power plants have undermined efforts to realize universal access to electricity.

To address the energy access gap, the government wants to replace diesel-fired power generation by drilling geothermal wells across the country's Rift Valley.

Currently, geothermal accounts for 39.15 percent of power installed in the national grid, followed by hydropower at 26.47 percent by the end of 2022, according to the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority.

President William Ruto said during the Africa Energy Forum held in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, in June that the country aims to achieve a 100 percent clean energy transition by 2030.

He said Kenya has 10,000 MW of untapped geothermal energy, spread across some 20 locations in the Rift Valley, which is enough to meet the country's electricity needs even during peak hours.

Kenya's development blueprint, Vision 2030, projects that its geothermal power generation will reach 1,600 MW by 2030, accounting for 60 percent of overall power generation.

In the middle of picturesque escarpments on the northern edges of the Rift Valley county of Nakuru, the Menengai Geothermal Power Plant, financed and constructed by a Chinese firm, stands out for its architectural finesse.

Major civil works on the plant are 98 percent complete, according to local officials, and upon commissioning, it will supply 35 MW of electricity to the national grid, boosting Kenya's clean energy switch.

The exploration of geothermal power at Menengai crater, a geological marvel at the heart of the Great Rift Valley, commenced in 2011 but paused later, only to resume in 2021 when a group of Chinese financiers and contractors came on board.

One of the Chinese companies implementing the geothermal power project is Kaishan Group, the project's contractor, which was involved in securing financing as well as designing and constructing the plant.

Guo Rui, the project manager at Kaishan Group, said that through a contractual arrangement with Sosian Energy, a local privately owned independent power producer, it has been possible to mobilize funds and technology required to exploit geothermal resources in Kenya.

"We are at the final stages of constructing the power plant and once it is completed, we shall hand it over to Sosian Energy company, which will later sell electricity from geothermal wells to the national grid," Guo told Xinhua during a recent interview.

Kaishan's manufactured equipment has slashed the geothermal project's implementation timeline significantly, saving on cost, Guo said.

"The equipment produced by Kaishan Group is highly energy efficient and has a shorter construction lifespan," Guo said, adding that transferring skills to local technicians has been a major priority for the Chinese firm.

Venugopal Varanasi, the managing director of Sosian Energy, in an article published on June 1 by China Global South Project, noted that air compressors manufactured by the Kaishan group convert geothermal steam into electricity speedily.

Varanasi added that through the use of Kaishan technology, it has been possible to convert low-pressure geothermal steam into power, noting that the Menengai geothermal project will serve as a model for innovative blending of Chinese capital and technology to promote clean energy access in Kenya.

Kenya could become a regional hub for geothermal generation and supply, thanks to the injection of Chinese funds and modern technology to hasten the implementation of the Menengai geothermal plant, said Lin Juntao, a site engineer at Power Construction Corporation of China (PowerChina).

PowerChina, according to Lin, has since January 2022 been undertaking civil and installation works at the Menengai geothermal plant.

"All the installation works are finished," Lin said, noting that equipment supplied by Kaishan Group, including turbines, can use high steam temperature to generate power twice, compared to only once with Japanese or European equipment.

Moses Kachumo, a project engineer at Geothermal Development Company, a state-owned firm, hailed the Chinese for their flexible and no-strings-attached financing model alongside technical prowess for hastening the implementation of the Menengai Geothermal Power Plant.

Kachumo singled out technology supplied by Kaishan Group for maximizing generation of geothermal power from steam and hot water, adding that replicating similar technology in other geothermal projects in the country is being mooted.

"With Kaishan technology, we can use a low-pressure mixture of steam and water to generate power. The technology maximizes the energy from steam," Kachumo said.

According to Kachumo, Kaishan Group has a 14-year contractual agreement with Sosian Energy to run and maintain the Menengai geothermal plant, and the Chinese firm will later hand it over to the Kenyan energy firm upon recouping its investments.

Kachumo said that Sosian Energy has a 25-year power purchasing agreement with Kenya Power, the state-owned utility, where it will be supplying electricity generated from the Menengai geothermal plant.

Editor: Duan Jing