Kenya’s rift valley boasts a mind-blowing safari landscape. But it is also home to the world’s eighth largest producer of geothermal energy.
In this special edition of Focus Japan, we look at how Japan is playing a key role in helping Kenya to reach its energy goals.
The power of geothermal energy
Geothermal energy is essentially a renewable source – derived from the heat of the earth, particularly in volcanically active areas.
The Olkaria power plant is a groundbreaking project, a joint initiative involving the Kenya Electricity Generating Company “KenGen,” Japan and other international partners.
Olkaria is already delivering results, according to Abel Rotich, Geothermal Development Director at KenGen.
“We have seen fruits of this collaboration in terms of reducing the cost of electricity. In terms of also playing a part in conserving the environment because of the co-existence with the wildlife around Olkaria,” he said.
“Olkaria 4 is one of the projects that we just completed. When we brought in the 280 mega-watts to our system that power displaced the fuel oil generated power, and reduced the cost of power by 30 percent and 30 percent for consumers is a lot of big margin.”
Balancing environmental conservation with energy development is one of the main tasks of Olkaria.
There are four Olkaria power plants in the heart of Hells Gate national park, a park also rich in wildlife.
The total installed geothermal capacity across them is around 514 mega-watts. Since 1981, KenGen has drilled 281 wells, operated by Kenyan engineers.
“For the first one year we are full time training of our members through the JICA arrangement so that they are also equipped in terms of the software, in terms of the hands-on operations of this power plant,” said Rotich.
“All our power plants are managed and run by the locals experts who are Kenyans.”
Japan promotes Africa’s development
The Kenyan government is facing a major challenge when it comes to developing its workforce in different sectors, not just in energy.
Japan is lending a hand, by diversifying the scope of cooperation with the country.
In Nairobi, officials at the Japanese embassy told us about their vision.
“Various areas have been identified for the areas of cooperation, which includes education, health as well as economic growth, infrastructure, energy, peace and security,” said Mikio Mori, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Japanese Embassy in Kenya.
“We saw that Kenya is a very appropriate place to host the first ever TICAD conference outside of Japan, in African soil.”
New school for Masaai
TICAD is the Tokyo International Conference of African Development. It is a hub where Japan promotes Africa’s development in different sectors – with a focus on education and community development.
For example, behind a massive energy project like Olkaria, there is a community development plan for local tribes.
Masaai used to live where Olkaria 4 is now located. KenGen brought in a relocation programme, providing new homes and a school for those affected.
The new school has more than doubled the number of pupils, to over 200, and sometimes the village elder drops by.
“We are happy about this new school, compared to the old one, here is much better for the children,” said Sendero Ole Nasaron, the Masaai village elder.
One of the school’s students, Mika Kasino, explained: “The previous school we had not electricity. We used to go home early at 5 o’clock and here we continue up to six or seven.”
The government’s planning to get 70 percent of Kenyans hooked up to electricity by 2030. And soon Olkaria 5 will arrive to help the country meets its ambitious target to light up the future.