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Kenya – full steam ahead with its geothermal generation at Olkaria

A group of delegates to the East African Power Industry Convention (EAPIC) in Nairobi in September 2016 had the unique opportunity to tour KenGen’s Olkaria Geothermal Project which is located in the Hell’s Gate National Park, some 120 km from Nairobi. The project is located next to Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake in the Kenya Rift Valley. Preliminary studies have indicated that a large potential of geothermal energy of approximately 7,000MW exists within the Kenya Rift.

Caption: Entrance to the Hell’s Gate National Park

KenGen’s generation mix movement:

Stats and graphics provided by KenGen       

“Kenya is currently the seventh largest geothermal producer in the world” says Peter Ndirangu, geologist at KenGen’s Olkaria site and the EAPIC delegation’s guide for the technical site visit. Of the 12,328MW that has been developed worldwide, Kenya comprises 672MW, while the United States is number one at 3,442MW and the Philippines second at 1,904MW. “However” says Peter, “with the potential geothermal in Kenya estimated at 10,000MW, Kenya will never be able to compete with the top producers in the world.”

He continues:  “we are trying to bridge the gap between hydro and geothermal in our energy mix. Our goal is to shift to geothermal and eliminate hydro risk and future oil-price effects to the economy. ” By 2020, the country hopes to have doubled its current generation capacity to 3,290MW with geothermal comprising 50%, hydro 28%, fossil fuel 18% and wind 5%. Solar is not featuring in the energy mix yet.

Says Peter: “We will never eliminate hydro but we plan to make geothermal the main producer. We also encourage the growth of IPPs – the demand is there so there is no competition”. Currently, KenGen has 80% market share of the country’s generation market with 1,633MW of the total installed capacity of 2,299MW, of which the Olkaria capacity represents 533MW.

Caption: EAPIC delegates in front of the Olkaria II power station.

‘Olkaria’ is the Masai word for wet land. KenGen owns four geothermal power stations, Olkaria I, Olkaria II, Olkaria IV and Olkarial units 4 and 5, all located within Hell’s Gate National Park. In addition, KenGen also owns five wellheads generation plants, of which four are situated at Olkaria.

Olkaria I was the first geothermal power plant in Africa and was commissioned in June 1981 in three phases and has three units, each generating 15MW of electricity.

Commissioned in 2003, Olkaria II is Africa’s largest geothermal power station, generating 105MW. The power generated is transmitted to the national grid via 220 kV double circuit line.

Caption: Eng. Boniface Kipkorir, Engineer in charge of the Olkaria I AU (Additional Unit), explains the basics of geothermal energy to the EAPIC delegates.

Geothermal is the natural heat stored within the earth’s crust. The energy is manifested in the form of fumaroles, hot springs and hot-altered grounds. To extract this energy, wells are drilled to tap steam and water at high temperatures (250-350˚) and pressures (600-1200PSI) at depths of 1-3 km. For electricity generation the steam is piped to a turbine, which rotates a generator to produce electrical energy. (KenGen)

Caption: EAPIC visitors to Olkaria pictured in front of the master well at one of the modular wells. KenGen geologist and site visit guide Peter Ndirangu is third from the right.

The cost of the development of geothermal is often said to be a drawback to this form of renewable energy. According to KenGen’s Peter Ndirangu: “it costs $5-6 million to drill one hole. However, a modular, mobile unit is a really quick way to get a wellhead installed and it only takes about six months. The construction of a full power plant takes about three years”.

Caption: The Olkaria Geothermal Health Spa and Demonstration Centre features hot and cold water pools where visitors can enjoy the balneological effects of the water that is gathered from the various wells from the geothermal field.

– Written by Annemarie Roodbol.

Article includes information and graphics provided by KenGen. All photographs provided by Spintelligent.

REGISTER FOR SITE VISIT: To experience this interesting technical site visit to Olkaria on 1 December 2017, following the renamed Future Energy East Africa in Nairobi, click here.

More Olkaria site visit photographs:

Caption:  Olkaria I AU (Additional Unit). The unit has a 150 MW capacity turbine, 140 MW of generated power is fed to the national grid while 10 MW is for internal use.

Caption:  View of Lake Naivasha from the Hell’s Gate National Park.


Caption:  Drilling Test Well No. OW739 at Olkaria.


Caption: Safety first at the Olkaria I AU (Additional Unit).

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.