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| 03/02/15

Geothermal heats up in Kenya


The African continent is splitting in half. But don’t be alarmed; it’s happening very slowly, on the scale of millions of years, as plate tectonic forces deep in the Earth push apart East Africa along the north-south Rift Valley.

Kenya is taking advantage of the intense heat flow in this geologically active region by exploiting geothermal energy. Thanks to high temperatures pushing closer to the surface of the Earth the country generates about 40 per cent of its electricity from geothermal sources, and two new generators have just come online, adding 140 MW of power into the national grid. With 75 per cent of Kenyans lacking regular access to power, demand is high, and the country is sitting on about 10,000 MW of geothermal capacity. Kenya could increase its installed capacity by 5000 MW by 2017. Of particular interest is the economic return provided by using geothermal power. According to cost analyses, geothermal generation is currently saving the country about $40 million every month compared to other energy sources like coal combustion.

BC does not have a rift valley, but it does host at least 18 known areas where geothermal heat flow is high and the power generation potential is significant. But despite discussions going back decades, no geothermal sources are currently being exploited  in the province. Why? One explanation is that BC has abundant hydropower capacity already in place and the opportunity to increase it, as evidenced by the recent decision to go forward with Site C. The Canadian Geothermal Energy Association has said that geothermal in BC is capital-cost-competitive with hydro even before secondary benefits such as jobs are factored in: $56 to $71 per kWh for geothermal, versus $53-$61 for hydro. It also notes that BC has the highest geothermal potential of any province in Canada. But while exploitation of that potential does not appear to be imminent, there have been recent advances: a contract was awarded this February to carry out a series of geothermal experiments at several sites across the province, the focus being determination of economic feasibility.

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