The Republic of Kenya has approved a wind power project that is expected to provide 300 megawatts of electric power by the time the Lake Turkana Wind Power project is fully online in 2012. That would constitute about one-third of Kenya’s total current electric power needs.
The project’s promoters have been aware of its potential since the 1980s, but it was not an economically viable project until the rising cost of crude oil and new efficiencies in wind turbines made the project feasible. The US$760 million project won’t start until July 2011, but its success could open new investment in renewable energy projects in Kenya and other parts of Africa. Kenya particularly has tremendous potential for renewable energy from onshore and offshore wind projects, solar power, coal and geothermal from the Rift Valley.
The one caveat is that wind power traditionally has an effective ceiling of about 20%of a country’s electric generating capacity. Beyond that level, power generating systems incur additional cost because of the need to buy additional equipment because of the variability in winds. During wet seasons, there is less wind, and in dry seasons, there is more. Winds also are variable due to elevation.
That’s why Kenya and other African nations must devise a mixed use system, taking into account all means of generating power, and power pools, such as the emerging East Africa Power Pool, will have to utilize innovation to ensure consistent power for its customers.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, the American Association of Blacks in Energy and the Solar Electric Light Fund provided strategies for enhancing Africa’s renewable energy mix at the Leon H. Sullivan Summit VIII in Arusha, Tanzania, last year, and further renewable energy solutions are being readied for presentation at the next Sullivan Summit in Nairobi, Kenya in July 2010 – about one year before Kenya’s initial wind project is expected to get underway.