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Kenya reaps the wind

Much needed energy to be generated by first wind farm to open atop the Ngong Hills.

The $15 million pilot project funded by the Belgian government started in April last year. The turbines chosen were the largest ones KenGen could manage. The towers and blades were shipped in from Europe then loaded onto trucks which had to navigate Kenya’s appalling roads until they reached the foot of the Ngong Hills themselves.

From there a precipitous dirt track wiggles its way up to the top. Quite simply bigger turbines on bigger trucks could not have made the journey. “The limiting factor is our infrastructure,” Ng’iela said.

The blades begin to turn when wind speeds reach 13 feet per second, at 40 feet per second the turbines are running at maximum capacity. If the wind blows too strong — say 82 feet per second — the turbine shuts down.

Once operational each of the turbines will produce up to 850 kilowatts of power, meaning another 5.1 megawatts will feed into the national grid. It may not sound like much but in rural Kenya where electricity consumption is low each turbine can produce enough power to supply as many as 1,000 homes.

Kenya — like much of Africa — is facing a looming power crisis with regular power cuts becoming more and more frequent. Today in Kenya potential production slightly outweighs demand but that will change fast.

If everything works at full capacity, Kenya’s various hydroelectric, geothermal and thermal plants produce 1,200 megawatts while Kenya’s citizens use 1,050 MW. But with global warming causing the rains to fail with depressing regularity and deforestation also reducing the flow of rivers, hydropower generation is down.

“Kenya is facing a crisis of power generation,” said Christian Lambrechts, program officer at the United Nations Environment Program in Nairobi, “and electricity is key to economic

Demand is increasing by around 6 percent per year partly thanks to population growth and partly because of efforts to expand the national grid. The government hopes to connect another 150,000 homes a year to the network. In some rural areas only one in five homes have electricity.

It is that desperate need that perhaps explains why Kenya’s first wind farm being built on top of one of its natural wonders has not caused an outcry. Wind farms in Europe are frequently greeted with a not-in-my-backyard attitude. But here, Ng’iela said, “because of the shortages people want electricity, so they welcome this.”

More GlobalPost dispatches from Kenya: 

Kenya angered by killing

New wave of elephant poaching in Kenya

Recession worsens Kenyan famine