Lake Turkana wind farm – Kenya on a green road to 2022

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Lake Turkana is Africa’s largest wind farm, Photo by Resource Global Network

President Kenyatta cuts the ribbon

On 19th July, Kenya began full operation of its Lake Turkana wind farm in the arid Marsabit county, 545 kilometres north of Nairobi. Construction began in 2014, and since 2017 the plant had been operating at 64% of its capacity. 365 turbines and total power output of 310 megawatts make it Africa’s largest wind power plant. At a 625 million USD price tag, it is also the most expensive private investment in Kenya to date, with major contributions from the African Development Bank, as well development financial institutions from France, The Netherlands, Germany and the United States. Kenya’s direct electricity supply is set to increase by 13%, in turn reducing the country’s dependence on diesel, with cuts on fuel imports estimated at 135 million USD.

Commitment to renewables

The Lake Turkana wind farm marks a leap forward in Kenya’s race to reach 100% green energy procurement by 2020. President Uhuru Kenyatta had presented this ambition at a climate summit in November 2018, stating that renewables already constituted 70% of installed electric power capacity. This is three times the global average. Today, geothermal (827MW) and hydro (672MW) power make up the greatest proportion of Kenya’s generation, according to numbers from the IRENA, while mass investment is foreseen in solar energy.

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President Kenyatta commissions the Lake Turkana wind farm, Photo by PSCU

Electricity for prosperity

Turkana will sustain the major Kenyan energy advances of this last decade. World Bank numbers exhibit the astonishing increase in access to electricity across the country. In 2010, 19% of the population was connected to electricity supply. In 2017, this proportion had jumped to 75%, both for grid and off-grid. Kenya’s government is aiming for universal access by 2022. Since the Turkana wind farm’s first connection to the national grid, it has brought 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and saved the population 8 billion shillings (75 million USD) in tax contributions.

In social terms, the effects are manifold. As presented by the development plan Vision 2030, education, health coverage and food security are very much dependent on energy supply. In this respect, electrification of rural areas catalyses human development. Studies have shown that access to electricity both in school and at home is directly correlated with the eradication of poverty, strengthening the social power of local institutions and connecting localities. A man from the village of Ikisaya summed up this feeling of inclusion and national identity: “When I have seen what the President looks like, I will also feel as being part of Kenya”.

Energy mix
Kenya energy mix in 2015 and 2020, with stable share of fossil fuels, increase in renewables, Photo from Power Africa

Mitigation and adaptation

Climate change is increasing desertification and abnormal rainfall patterns throughout Kenya, which in killing crops and animals, jeopardises agricultural labour and food security. This in turn drives the population to large cities, themselves made progressively less bearable by heightened temperatures. As an equatorial country, Kenya does not experience extreme weather conditions according to seasons, hence the hot temperatures remain throughout the year. Kenyatta labelled climate change a defining security and development challenge. The energy transition is an integral part of Kenya’s adaptation plan. Lake Turkana bears witness to the country’s great efforts to counteract the effects of global warming; it should constitute an example to be followed not just in Africa, but also around the world.

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