Last week Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta broke ground on a major renewable energy project for the country and for the African continent as a whole: a 310-megawatt wind farm some 300 miles north of the capital city of Nairobi. The farm, which will consist of 365 turbines when fully completed in mid-2017, will be the largest in Africa — overpowering Morocco’s Tarfaya wind farm, currently Africa’s biggest project with 131 turbines. It is also expected to provide around 17 percent of Kenya’s power demand.
Known as the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, the wind farm will be spread across 162 miles in a part of the country that receives steady wind all year. Due to the availability and consistency of the wind, the load factor of the wind farm — the average level at which overall installed capacity is used — is expected to be about 62 percent. Many European wind farms have load factors that are less than half of that, and the global wind power load factor was estimated to be 22.7 percent in 2012. The high capacity of Kenya’s project will allow the wind power generators to sell the electricity for a cheaper price than many other countries.
The project, which is expected to cost $690 million, is being financed by a group of European and African investors such as the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank. It is the largest single private investment in Kenya. The undertaking has already been delayed several years due to the lack of transmission lines to link the remote area to Kenya’s electricity grid.
Currently wind power accounts for about one percent of the country’s total power generation, a number that is expected to rise above 10 percent by 2017.
“We can expect the Lake Turkana Wind Power project to bring change gradually,” Kenya Power’s Benson Muriithi told CNN earlier this year. “As demand for electricity grows, we will see electricity generated from wind turbines play a more important role in Kenya’s and reduce power costs in the country.”
Sub-Saharan Africa has been advancing rapidly since 2000, with the region’s economy doubling in size by 2013. Energy demand in the region grew by around 45 percent over the same period. Even so, some 630 million people, or two-thirds of the population, still lack access to electricity. Large wind projects like the new one in Kenya will help fill this gap over the coming decades. A recent report by the International Energy Agency determined that renewable energy will make up almost half of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generation growth by 2040.
Over the next three years, Kenya hopes to add 5,000 megawatts of power to its grid, an ambitious target that will take installed capacity up from 1,700 megawatts in 2013 to 6,700 megawatts by 2017. Aside from wind and solar power capacity, Kenya is rich in hydropower and geothermal energy sources. The country recently installed a 280-megawatt geothermal plant — one of the world’s largest. Geothermal recently overtook hydropower as the single largest electricity provider in the country.
Just as the Lake Turkana Wind Power project is breaking ground, Kenyan developers are already planning a larger 400-megawatt wind farm, with two financiers — France’s Development Agency and Germany’s Development Bank — visiting Kenya this week to assess the project.