Thu, Nov 28, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Kenya’s geothermal energy revolution

Electricity may be at a premium in Kenya, but the country hopes to be the world’s leading exponent of geothermal power by 2023

By Jessica Hatcher  /  The Guardian, NAIROBI

However, geothermal consistently delivers almost full capacity.

About 13 percent of Kenya’s power generating capacity is geothermal, but in real terms it contributes 22 percent to the grid.

“That is one of the reasons why the expansion is based on geothermal,” Muchemi says.

A lack of human resources is one of the primary factors limiting Kengen’s geothermal growth.

Developing geothermal requires highly skilled specialists. The necessary skills are not commonly taught at universities. The UN began addressing this problem four decades ago. In the mid-1970s, they identified the potential of geothermal in the wake of heavily inflated oil prices during the energy crisis.

By 1979, the UN had established the first Geothermal Training Program, hosted by Iceland, in an attempt to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons.

Muchemi, a geology graduate, won a scholarship to join the UN’s program and sends eight of his employees every year to study in Iceland and New Zealand.

Many more are taught on site by visiting lecturers, or attend the new geothermal postgraduate course at Kimathi University in Kenya.

“We are trying to assist local universities to teach geothermal,” says Muchemi, who helped Kimathi University write its curriculum.

Every employee at Kengen’s geothermal plant is Kenyan.

Ensuring the local community benefits from employment at the plant is challenging. Kengen has a policy of employing locally, but Kirimi says many of the Maasai did not attend school.

“We try to give them jobs according to their ability,” he says.

Joseph Ole Kiraison, 21, is a young Masai from the nearby Olomanyana community. He was unable to finish school because of financial constraints and is working as a security contractor at one of the drilling rigs.

“[Olkaria] is a development opportunity, but there’s corruption,” he says, referring to local leaders.

He believes the community is not developing from opportunities presented by the plant because of inter-clan rivalries, which mean certain people are promoted above others.

Both Kengen’s chief human resources officer and community liason officer are from the Masai community. Together, they seek to counter such bias and promote Masai rights.

After an environmental impact assessment, Kengen is obliged to resettle those living near the plant. This is due to noise and air pollution. Those entitled are awaiting the resettlement and compensation packages they have agreed, which comply with World Bank standards. Kengen is responsible for ensuring they are not worse off than at the outset.

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