GDC starts drilling new geothermal wells at Olkaria in Kenya

Alexander Richter 11 Jan 2010

Kenya's Geothermal Development Company will start drilling new geothermal wells at Olkaria before January 15 this year.

Reported locally, “Kenya is inching closer to reducing the energy gap following the start of drilling new geothermal wells at Olkaria. The initiative, spearheaded by Geothermal Development Company (GDC), commenced on December 18, 2009, barely four months after the government set up the corporation and three weeks before an earlier scheduled drilling date.

In early November, GDC had said that drilling would kick-off before January 15 this year. The news comes in the wake of fears from the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) that consumers will still bear the burden of high energy costs if the ongoing rains do not fill the Seven Forks dams to required levels.

GDC accelerated the drilling process after signing a contract with a Chinese firm – Greatwall Drilling Company – for hire of two rigs that were already in the country instead of waiting for shipment of another two that the corporation has purchased from China Petroleum Technology and Development (CPTPC).

According to GDC managing director Silas Simiyu, the corporation will drill 10 wells over the next 10 months in the Olkaria area to generate steam that will add an extra 140MW (megawatts) into the national grid. Each well will take 66 days to drill.

“The steam will be channeled through the Olkaria IV power plant. We have now started the journey which will see Kenyans enjoying affordable and reliable green electricity,” he says. The project is being funded jointly by the government and donors. Recently, the French Agency for Development (AFD) extended a Sh12.7 billion (US$161million) facility to the corporation.

Sh7.2 billion (US$91million) will be used to purchase drilling rigs and capacity building, while Sh5.5 billion is meant for enhancing steam generation at existing OlKaria projects. Mr Simiyu and Mr Fan Shihong from CPTPC signed the purchase contract of the two geothermal deep drilling rigs in mid-November. GDC bought the two rigs at a cost of Sh3.8 billion. Mr Simiyu says it takes about four months to prepare and ship a drilling rig from China that is why they chose to go for hire.”
He says the corporation has come up with a strategy to generate electricity using portable wellhead generators soon after a steam well has been sunk. This way, the economy will receive immediate relief while awaiting conventional power plants which are expensive to put up and take time to complete.

According to the MD, once a geothermal steam well is completed, a small generator is mounted to produce electricity. As a result, GDC will be injecting a cumulative 200MW to the national grid every year starting end of this year.

“The early generation plan will go a long way in stabilising the national grid. Our idea is to have affordable and reliable green energy at the earliest opportune time. It is not lost on GDC that most Kenyans have been suffering due to inadequate and expensive electricity. The ball is now in our court to change this unfortunate situation,” says Mr Simiyu.

Studies show that Kenya has massive geothermal potential in excess of 7,000 MW spread in at least 14 locations along the volcanic fault-lines in the Rift Valley. The prospected sites are found near Lake Magadi, Mt Longonot, Menengai, Eburru, Olkaria, Paka and Lake Turkana.

It is this resource that the government wants to tap to bridge the existing power deficit in the country. GDC is expected to provide at least 4,000 MW of electricity according to the country’s development blueprint, Vision 2030. “We have been sitting on a gold mine. The geothermal potential that Kenya has is simply mind boggling. It is time we started enjoying this resource,” says Mr Simiyu.

To get the electricity to consumers, GDC has entered into an agreement with Kenya Power and Lighting Company to tap the power once it is generated. The outlined geothermal potential is six times more the amount of power in supply in the country today. Ironically, only about 167 MW of geothermal energy has been exploited 30 years since the first power plant was set up in Olkaria.

Source: Daily Nation