With hydro power in decline – geothermal becomes more important for Kenya
With less rain, hydropower generation has declined in Kenya forcing the country to rely on thermal power plants and creating a need to speed up geothermal development to provide electricity and this at competitive prices into the national grid.
Geothermal and hydro power have been an incredibly important source of electricity for Kenya in the past five years, and has helped to cut production from thermal power plants.
Geothermal energy produced at the geothermal power plants at Olkaria has played a specifically important role, due to its reliability, followed by hydro and thermal. Thermal power plants are fuelled by diesel and other oil.
But changing weather patterns have forced Kenya to alter its energy production from all three sources.
The percentage of thermal electricity injected into the national grid has risen considerably to make up for hydro generation affected by low water levels following poor rains in the last two years.
Latest economic data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed Monday that Kenya is generating up to 274 million Kilowatts per hour (KWh) of electricity from thermal sources every month, which is three times more than it did over a year ago.
Generation of electricity from thermal sources had dropped to a low of 92 million KWh in May 2016 but has been rising over the months as hydro generation experiences challenges.
In January, thermal power generation stood at 197 million KWh and rose to peak at 274 million KWh in June.
The rise pushes thermal power in the East African nation’s energy mix to 32 percent of the electricity consumed, against hydropower 21 percent.
In June, Kenya generated from hydro sources 183 million KWh of electricity as production for the first time in many years fell below 200 million KWh.
Hydropower production has been on a steady decline closing 2016 in December at 299 million KWh and starting January at 252 million KWh.
On the other hand, production from geothermal stood at 376 million KWh in June having remained stable throughout the period. The source contributes about 45 percent of power in the energy mix.
In 2015, Kenya injected 280 megawatts of cheaper geothermal energy to the national grid, pushing up installed capacity from 1,765 megawatts (MW) in June 2013 to 2,327MW as at December 2016.
The drop in hydro-power production has been attributed to erratic rains in the last two years that have significantly reduced the amount of water in the dams that include Seven Forks Dam on Tana River, Sondu-Miriu in western Kenya, and Turkwel Gorge in the North West.
The increased use of thermal sources translate into higher monthly bills for consumers since they have to pay for fuel levy that is linked to the amount of diesel-generated power on the grid.
Electricity tariffs, which started to rise in December, last year, have sustained an upward trend albeit marginally as the Meteorological Department forecasts dry weather conditions in coming months.
“The average retail tariffs increase due to surge in fuel cost charge occasioned by a rise in petrol thermal power in the energy mix by 3 percent. This was mainly due to low water levels at Sondu-Miriu and Seven Forks dams necessitating running of petrol based thermal power plants to cover the short-fall,” the Energy Regulatory Commission noted recently.
Last month, households that consumed 200 KWh of power paid 36 U.S. dollars compared to 33 dollars in July 2016. On the other hand, those that consumed 50 KWh per hour paid 5.6 dollars compared to 5 dollars in 2016.
“Electricity tariffs are among the biggest contributors of inflation in the country. If they rise, inflation rises. If the current trend continues, electricity costs would add burden to consumers and set them up for higher inflation, which now stands at 7.5 percent since electricity is used to produce many goods,” said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi.