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Geothermal project set to make Kenya 'economic heartbeat of Africa'

         Date: 2012-04-28

           Tag: Africa economic, Geothermal project

Summary: According to CEO Dr. Silas Simiyu, the first phase in 2016 will generate 400 megawatts, which is enough to light up 500,000 households and run 300,000 small businesses.

The Kenyan government has launched the Menengai Geothermal Development Project, the first initiative of its newly formed Geothermal Development Company. When Kenya's newly announced geothermal power generation project comes online, it will turn the East African country into a virtual economic powerhouse in the region.

 According to CEO Dr. Silas Simiyu, the first phase in 2016 will generate 400 megawatts, which is enough to light up 500,000 households and run 300,000 small businesses.

"It is situated 180 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, and will have a capacity to produce 1,600 megawatts of electricity by the time we implement all three phases in 2030," Simiyu says.

Policy and economic analyst at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, Nashon Adero, the first phase of the plant will have a significant impact on the country as it moves towards industrialization.

"At the moment, the country consumes 1,600 megawatts," Adero said. "Four hundred megawatts is therefore an additional 25 percent.

And given that the country has embarked on other ambitious projects of green power generation, such as the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, which will generate an additional 300 megawatts, Kenya will become an economic giant within the region."

In addition, construction on the Lake Turkana Wind Power project will begin in June. When completed, it will be sub-Saharan Africa's largest wind farm.

Kenya is already recognized as eastern and central Africa's financial, communication and transportation hub, with the country's gross domestic product increasing by four to five percent in the last 10 years.

"Kenya's GDP is currently the largest in the (East African) region given its strong agricultural industry, particularly in tea and coffee production, and floriculture," Ezekiel Esipisu, Habitat for Humanity's regional operations manager for East Africa and the Middle East says.

"This, coupled with investments at the Nairobi Stock Exchange and the manufacturing industry, means that the country is one of the leading economies in Africa.

"All of Kenya's neighbors have power deficits. The roadmap towards further power production will definitely boost development," Esipisu says. "We will see Kenya move closer to industrialization, and it will become a real economic giant in the region."

About 60 percent of Kenya's power is hydroelectric, which is generated when falling water from a dam is used to drive turbines.

When this supply becomes unsteady -- Kenya has been subjected to perennial drought and erratic rainfall, the resulting power cuts have hampered the country's growth.

From July to August 2011, the government was forced to implement power rationing after the water levels in the country's major dams dropped. At the time Kenya was generating about 1,200 megwatts of power, while demand increased at an average rate of eight percent a year, according to the Ministry of Energy.

The 2011 power cuts cost Kenya over $96 million. However, the worst period of power rationing was between 1999 and 2001, which resulted in an estimated loss of four percent of Kenya's GDP, about $400 million.

"Hydroelectric power generation is solely dependent on climatic conditions," John Omenge, the chief geologist at Kenya's Ministry of Energy says. "During a drought, for example, the water levels will definitely drop, reducing the amount of power generated.


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