Kenya leaping forward with Lake Turkana Wind Project

Access to electricity can transform the lives of many. In developing nations it allows school children to study and do their homework later at night, creates income generating opportunities for many households, and takes the place of expensive and polluting fuels such as kerosene. In Kenya for instance, close to 87% of rural households and 55% of the urban poor households use kerosene lamps for lighting. Kenya’s grid connected electricity capacity is 1429 MW and due to a growing population and economy, the demand for electricity is projected to grow to about 15,000 MW by 2030.

Only about 18% of the country’s households have access to electricity. To connect to the national grid costs approximately  $376 USD in a standard household. These are relatively high costs which pose a problem to the expansion of electricity to low income households and small to medium enterprises. 

The Kenyan government is committed to diversifying its power sources. According to economics experts in the country, branching out into other methods of generating power including solar, geothermal and wind energy will have a dramatic impact on bringing down energy prices by as much as 80%.

In response to this, the government in partnership with the World Bank Group in 2012 commissioned the construction of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP) which will be the largest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa. The project is estimated to cost a whopping 582 million Euros and provide 300MW of low cost power to the national grid. The wind farm will occupy 40,000 acres of land in Loiyangalani district in north eastern Kenya stretching from 450m at the shores of Lake Turkana to 2,300m above sea level at the top of Mt Kulal. As a result of the daily temperature fluctuations, strong and predictable winds between the lake and the dessert are experienced with expected average speeds of 11 m per second. 

Once a good road network stretching around 240km is built to allow access into the area, 365 wind turbines will be put up. In addition, a 428km transmission line will be constructed to link the farm to the national grid. Once production starts, LTWP will sell the electricity produced to Kenya’s utility company Kenya Power. It is believed that the wind power along with geothermal power resources in the Rift Valley will be the cheapest power generation options available.

Carlo Van Wageningen, head of the LTWP has reported that there might be challenges to the project. One challenge is the ability to manage the co-ordination of interface risks between the six EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contracts that the project is composed of to make sure completion is timely. The locals should expect to benefit greatly from the project as the company expects to source labor locally. He also spoke of their CSR program which will construct and deliver four 33KV transmission lines and substations to bring power to four small towns in the area. LTWP says the project will create 2500 jobs during the construction period and 200 full time jobs during its operation.

This highly ambitious project is one of the largest single private investments in the country. It will allow diversification from hydroelectric power which caters for 60% of the country’s electricity needs but is prone to irregular rainfall and drought.

Editor's Note:  We're watching  Lake Turkana Wind Power very closely as a flagship project in Kenya.  For more coverage read analyst David Kariuki's recent post on the project.