Geothermal key to Kenya’s green growth

In September, Kenya hosts a strategic event — the Africa Climate Summit. This congress seeks to forge a robust financing framework that will influence new global climate commitments, consolidate Africa’s position ahead of this year’s UN Conference of Parties (COP28) and craft the continent’s green growth blueprint.

In climate discourse, energy is a big issue. Therefore, financing sustainable green energy regimes such as geothermal remains critical.

For Kenya, geothermal energy is a star. Geothermal defies erratic weather patterns, which have become regular.

The availability factor of geothermal energy is at 95 percent, making it the most reliable source of power in Kenya today.

This defiance has profoundly built our energy security and resilience. But that is not enough. Geothermal is prolific in its green credentials.

Our national e-mobility dream will ride on geothermal energy just like the grand Net Zero aspiration.

Yet, today, even as Kenya celebrates more than 90 percent green grid, achieving such a fete was no cakewalk. Implementing green projects, like geothermal, require financial muscle and progressive policies. Developing countries, therefore, need affordable, flexible, accessible financing for such projects.

Regrettably, those culpable of global heating are conveniently dodging their moral and legal onuses.

The financing architecture is rigged against poor countries making the leap painfully slow and expensive.

Even honouring promises such as the annual $100 billion pledged to developing countries at the Paris Agreement remains a cropper.

The matter featured strongly at the Paris Summit New Global Financing Pact in June. It remains, that a pledge until it’s effected.

Still, that’s just a drop in the ocean. Estimates indicate that the global south needs a staggering $2.8 trillion annually by 2030 for green growth.

But green capital flow to Africa is barely a trickle. For instance, the European Investment Bank reckons that sub-Saharan Africa’s share of climate finance in the financial year 2019/20 was just three percent.

That’s a tragedy. This must change. As humanity, we share a common destiny. Discriminatory policies are, therefore, unnecessary and counterproductive.

In Kenya, though geothermal is beneficial, for long, heavy upfront investment and risks have encumbered its growth.

Luckily, the Kenyan government boldly took over the burden to unlock the vast geothermal resource and make it bankable and investable.

Indeed, in the past decade, Kenya aggressively developed geothermal energy producing a constellation of new projects and powerplants.

Importantly two more strategic fields have been opened one at Menengai, Nakuru County and another in the Baringo-Silali, Baringo and Turkana counties where the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) is undertaking drilling of geothermal steam wells.

Just recently, we celebrated one of the biggest geothermal steam wells that our engineers drilled at Paka Hills. With 70 megawatts of steam harnessed, Paka is prime for power generation.

This precipitous growth of geothermal energy is thanks to the unprecedented reforms that the energy sector underwent in the 2000s.

That is how the country leapt from 167 megawatts of geothermal installed capacity in 2010 to the current 954 megawatts and counting. More geothermal energy means a boost to universal electricity access.

The promise of geothermal goes beyond its green stripes. Geothermal energy tariffs are the most competitive. At say seven US cents, geothermal allows Kenyans to enjoy the gift of their natural heritage.

But there is more shine on the geothermal crown. As we develop this resource it means the attendant displacement of hydrocarbons and pursuing emerging markets such as production of green hydrogen – which can easily be packaged for export — and for fertiliser production and enhanced food security.

Besides, expanding geothermal projects in a carbon-market realm affords Kenya a chance to gain from the lucrative carbon trade.

Earnings from this marketing will not only give Kenya a prestigious space as a green destination but also augments our foreign reserve base and therefore boost our collective national economy.

Geothermal projects being implemented by GDC are among the scheduled action plans in the National Climate Change Action.

But, to go full steam, and unlock the 10,000 megawatts geothermal reserve that Kenya boasts of, financing is critical. The world should walk the talk.


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