Inside geothermal plant that is biggest in Africa

Kenya aims to produce over 50% of its power from geothermal energy by 2030

In Summary

• Africa's geothermal potential is huge, particularly in the Rift Valley, which extends from the Horn of Africa to Malawi.

• In East Africa alone, the potential capacity is over 20GW, with Kenya leading the way 

An aerial view of the geothermal spa hot water pool in Olkaria, Naivasha, on April 26
An aerial view of the geothermal spa hot water pool in Olkaria, Naivasha, on April 26

Kenya is the leading producer of geothermal energy in Africa, and is ranked among the top 10 in the world.

The country generates 799MW from geothermal steam, which is found deep underground in the Rift Valley, but aims to produce more than 50 per cent of its power from geothermal energy by 2030.

The world's largest geothermal power producer is the United States, with 3,794MW, while Iceland, which produces 99 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources, uses geothermal for 20 per cent of its energy needs. Geothermal accounts for over 40 per cent of Kenya's power.

The Olkaria Geothermal Power Plants, which is the largest geothermal power complex in Kenya, is owned and operated by Kenya Electricity Generating Company (Kengen).

Cyrus Karingithi, the resource development and infrastructure manager at Kengen, says drilling and generating power from a single geothermal source can cost up to $6 million.

The first geothermal plant in Kenya was built 42 years ago, with a capacity to generate 45MW of power. The country now aims to increase the amount of geothermal to supply more than 50 per cent of its power needs by 2030.

Olkaria III is located in the Hell's Gate National Park in the Olkaria region of Kenya and has a total of 139 MW installed capacity. It started operations in 2000, with a capacity of 13 MW.

A wellhead is a miniature power plant with all the components of a standard power plant. Each wellhead generates 5 to 6 megawatts of power.

A wellhead can be installed within six months, while a big power plant takes about 36 months. KenGen has 16 wellheads generating 83.5 megawatts. One megawatt can power 5,000 homes.

Located in the Olkaria area in Kenya's Hell's Gate National Park, the Olkaria V geothermal plant is a 165MW geothermal power project.

The geothermal spa hot water pool at Olkaria is one of the largest natural hot water pools in Africa. The spa consists of three cascading ponds that receive geothermal water collected from wells inside the Olkaria geothermal field.

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