With Kenya’s proximity to the Great Rift, once a hotbed of volcanic activity, the country is the biggest producer of geothermal energy on the continent. Currently 13 percent of the national grid is powered by this renewable energy, but untapped geothermal fields have the potential to cover all of Kenya’s power needs, and then some.
Near the Kenyan town of Naivasha, Isaac Kirimi treks up a steaming hillside. Kirimi is a drilling superintendent with KenGen, Kenya’s leading power company.
Today, more than 30 years after KenGen built its first geothermal plant in the area, investment in renewable energy is booming. KenGen, with government support, is ramping up geothermal production.
For now, a majority of Kenya’s energy needs are met by hydroelectric power. But hydropower is diminished during rain shortages, leading to Kenya’s regular blackouts.
To harness geothermal energy, wells are first dug more than two kilometers into the earth’s surface.
The steam released by the wells is monitored for several months. If it’s exploitable, hot water and steam are extracted from the well. The steam travels through pipes to a power plant, where it is converted into electrical energy. The water is re-injected into the earth.