Science in Society Archive

Kenya to Build Africa’s Largest Windfarm

Ambitious plans to light up Africa, but local off grid power sources must not be neglected Sam Burcher

A clean energy frontier

The desert land around the beautiful Lake Turkana in Kenya, the scene of an award winning film [1] (see The Constant Gardener SiS 30) is set to become the site of Africa’s largest windfarm by 2012.  This ambitious project aims to end Africa’s electrical blackouts and tackle global warming simultaneously [2].

The Lake Turkana Wind Project (LTWP) has received funds of 300 million euros from the African Development Bank, 70 percent of the total cost, the remainder will come from private Dutch and Kenyan investors. The project will produce 310 megawatts (MW) of power going directly to the national grid.  It is hoped that this will meet the surging demand for energy though renewable resources. 

The African Development Bank is a treaty signed in 1963 [3] which focuses on regional development and is active in 78 countries throughout the Continent. Its aims are to:

The LTWP consists of 365 wind turbines at a height of 30-40 metres each with a capacity of 850 kilowatts (KW). This will add approximately 25 percent to Kenya’s existing electricity capacity, which is projected to produce 1 440 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of power per year, enough to light up around 2 million Kenyan households [4].

Currently, less that one in five Kenyan has access to electricity and almost three quarters of its major power supplier’s KenGen’s electricity comes from hydropower. Some 11 percent of this energy is powered by geothermal plants that absorb heat and steam from rocks deep below the Rift Valley.  But low rainfall in the country has boosted the short term reliance on fossil fuels such as coal. However, as only 10 percent of Kenya’s total energy comes from electricity (see Table 1), this project is a significant step towards Kenya’s 2030 Vision of Development and Least Cost Power Development Plan (2009-2029).

Africa going for the wind

Kenya is not the only African country harnessing energy from the wind.  The Tigray region of neighbouring Ethiopia, which has already produced remarkable crop yields from compost [5] (see The Tigray Project, SiS 23), has recently commissioned a £190 million 120 MW wind farm. This will represent 15 percent of Ethiopia’s current electrical capacity and more windfarms are planned.  In Tanzania, 100 MW of power will be produced from two projects in the Central Singida region, which account for more than 10 percent of the current supply.

Earlier this year, South Africa became the first African country to announce a feed in tariff for wind power, which means that customers generating electricity receive a financial remuneration for selling power to the national grid.

Two further wind projects are underway in Kenya.  One is in the popular tourist town Naivasha and one is in the Ngong Hills near Nairobi where Danish wind company Vestas have already installed six 50-metre V52 turbines contributing 5.1 megawatts to the national grid.  It is believed that 365 V52 turbines will be used in the LTWP.

The Turkana Channel Jet Stream

The LTWP will be constructed at a rate of one turbine per day starting from July 2011 to be completed by July 2012. The wind park will take advantage of the low level jet stream called the Turkana Channel Jet that blows all year round and is at full force during the night.  The average monthly wind speed at the site, on the southeast side of Lake Turkana measures 11 metres per second (at a height of between 40 and 80 metres) one of the highest averages recorded globally.

The windpark will cover 40m2 and turbines will span three ridges 70 metres apart between 450 metres at the lake shore and the bases of Mount Kulal (2 300 masl)) and the Mount Nyiru range (2 750 masl). This is a strategy to catch the SE winds blowing through the Rift Valley in between the East African and the Ethiopian Highlands.

What are carbon credits?

Carbon Africa is a carbon credit trading company in Kenya that has emerged in tandem with the LTWP.  A carbon credit is a permit approved by a body of the United Nations (UN) known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), an arrangement under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol. This permit allows the holder to emit one metric tonne of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent per one carbon credit. 

Carbon credits are awarded to countries, or entities, that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to below a set baseline.   It is expected that the LTWP will generate somewhere between 565 920 – 1 264 320 GHG emission reductions per year.  Therefore, an average of 850 000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent electricity generated from wind priced at 10 euros per carbon credit would accrue 8 500 000 euros per year. An independent Gold Standard review, which is an independent carbon credit certification body, will monitor the sustainable benefits of the LTWP.

Development pros and cons

An environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) of the LTWP has been done [6].  The report concludes that there will be a number of social, economic and environmental impacts both positive and negative for local communities and for the region in general.  For example, 196 km of new tarmac roads must be built to transport the 8 ton axle weight of each wind turbine mast and blade from Mombasa to the Lioyangalani location. There will also be the significant reconstruction of existing roads and the construction of a 266 km transmission line to junction electricity via multiple towns in the region to connect to a terminal substation for grid feed-in.

Currently, all the local institutions such as schools, hospitals, missionary stations and tourist facilities are powered by diesel. The Lioyangalani district is very poor, has a low nutrition rate and is dependent on food relief. Therefore, there are obvious benefits for health, education, local employment, and the stabilization of electricity supplies as well as the diversification of power sources. 

As the bulk of Kenya’s energy derives from wood fuel and other biomass resources (see Table 1) the result has been the highest deforestation rates in Africa.

Table 1 Energy use in Kenya [6]

Energy source    Percentage of total energy

Wood/Biomass

                  68

Petroleum

                  22

Electricity

                    9

Other sources     

                    1            

On the negative side, a predicted 600 people working in the area at the peak of construction will increase the exploitation of natural resources, noise, vibration, pollution and risk of disease from outsiders coming in. It will also increase disease vectors from stagnant waters in pits, ponds and quarries.  There will be disturbance to livestock, loss of trees, shrubs and grasses, and increased soil erosion from digging and turbine installation. There are further concerns for environmental impact on birds, fish and wildlife, (see Box.)

The indigenous population around Lake Turkana include four major Kenyan tribes people; the Samburu, the Turkana, the El Molo and the Rendile.  According to the ESIA, they will benefit directly from cold storage for fish caught on the lake and many problems including ‘relief dependency syndrome’ will be solved.  The EISA’s table of environmental perametres has predictably placed the stabilization of electricity at the top as highly positive and the risk of bird mortality at the bottom as moderately negative. The risk to collision between birds and turbine blades is thought to be low.

The beasts, birds and fishes of Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana is in the Great Rift Valley, 400 km from Nairobi [7]. It is a saline body of water that originally flowed into the Nile, but was cut off millions of years ago.  It is the 20th largest lake in the world and home to at least 84 species of birds, native to Kenya. Birds such as common and wood sandpipers, African skimmers, little stints, white necked cormorants, the greater flamingo and Heulins Bustard flock there.  It is a key stopover site for birds on migration passage for breeding, feeding and nesting that are supported by plankton masses in the lake.

Fish such as the African perch, tilapia and African tetra are abundant in Lake Turkana. It is also home to Africa’s largest population of Nile crocodiles. Whilst animals such as kudu, oryx, zebra, gazelle, giraffe and buffalo outside of the Marabit National Park and other national parks in the region have been hunted to extinction, reptiles such as adder cobra, lizard viper and scorpion thrive.

The once abundant acacia tree has been exploited for firewood and for income generation from charcoal.  Other plants in the locality are traditionally used for medicinal purposes are also eaten by the grazing herds belonging to local tribes peoples, who are mainly pastoralists.

Local power development

It must be remembered that no more than 20% of Africans have access to electricity, in some areas as few as 5%, dropping to 2% in rural regions [8]. Dr Bhattacharyya from Dundee University is leading a research project into energy for less-industrialised countries. He has warned that inefficient energy technologies used by low-income families in Africa such as burning wood and other biomass such as dung, crop wastes, kersosene and candles is bad for the environment and for human health, and recommends the development of local ideas.

He said, “Just extending the grid does not help the poor as they always lose out when there are shortages. What they need is local power.” Therefore, off grid local and small-scale reliable power sources such as the innovative windmill made entirely from scrap materials by a boy in Malawi [9] (see Harnessing the Wind with Scrap SiS 44) must be encouraged.  Low or no cost strategies such as scrap turbines help communities to power their homes and schools, to irrigate crops and to lower carbon emissions throughout the Continent.

Article first published 19/10/09



References

  1. Burcher S.  The Constant Gardener Science in Society 30, 4, 2006.
  2. Rice X.  Kenya to Build Africa ’s biggest Windfarm, 27th July 2009. http://browse.guardian.co.uk/search?search=Kenya+to+build+largest+windpower&sitesearch-radio=guardian&go-guardian=Search
  3. The African Development Bank Group Kenya-AfDB to Facilitate 300 Million Euro Loan for Kenyan Power Project http://www.afdb.org/en/news-events/article/kenya-afdb-to-facilitate-300-million-euro-loan-for-kenyan-power-project-4608/
  4. Carbon Africa Limited.  Lake Turkana Wind Power Project overview for Clean Development Mechanism and Gold Standard local stakeholder consultation, Loiyangalani, Kenya 17-18 July 2009 http://www.carbonafrica.co.ke/lake_turkana_wind_energy/2009%20July%20LTWP%206-page%20project%20summary.pdf
  5. Edwards S.  The Tigray Project Science in Society 23, 6-7, 2004
  6. Environment and Social Impact Assessment Study. (ESIA)  Lake Turkana Wind Project Kenya. Project Number K-PE –F20-001 Department OPSM-3. Date April 24th 2009 http://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Environmental-and-Social-Assessments/LTWP_ESIA%20ExecSummary_Final_2009_ENG.pdf
  7. Lake Turkana http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Turkana
  8. Levitt T.  Local electricity: Africa goes off-grid. 29th July, 2009,  http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/293902/local_electricity_africa_goes_offgrid.html
  9. Burcher S.  Harnessing the wind with scrap.  Science in Society 44

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