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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge


Bradley Hiller

Sustainability Challenges of Increasing Global Energy Demands “ A Case Study of Kenya"s Geothermal Program

Bradley Hiller

Sustainability Challenges of Increasing Global Energy Demands “ A Case Study of Kenya"s Geothermal Program

Global energy demand is predicted to increase significantly in coming decades. The majority of this growth will occur in developing countries as their burgeoning populations strive for access to modern energy services. Concurrently, during 2007, global scientific consensus confirmed that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for recent, rapid climate changes.

To simultaneously address these demands, a suite of reliable, cost-effective and carbonneutral energy sources will need to be identified. One such source is geothermal energy which has been directly utilised for millennia and is abundant in many of the world’s developing areas. One of the world’s most poverty-stricken regions is East Africa, where geothermal potential is vast, but is not utilised for electricity production in any country other than Kenya, which has been using it successfully for 27 years.

Given this, the research focused on a case study in Kenya. The study was informed by a comprehensive literature review and interviews with leading figures in the global energy and geothermal development sectors, in addition to a field visit to Kenya’s geothermal facilities and discussions with key stakeholders in the national energy sector.  An analysis of the recently reformed Kenyan energy sector was undertaken, with a particular focus on the historic development and current status of the geothermal subsector.

The study revealed that energy sector reform is ongoing, and has been effective in promoting development in both the generation and transmission sectors. Future generation strategies confirmed geothermal as the least cost base-load power supply, with hydropower imports and indigenous coal reserves also identified as significant contributors to future capacity additions.

More detailed analysis of the geothermal sub-sector revealed that regional initiatives and specific national reforms have also been encouraging, but some outstanding challenges remain in overcoming high up-front capital costs, limited private sector investment and high-risk exploration phases. However, the sub-sector is currently buoyant and substantial new resources have been identified for staged future development.

In light of the importance of geothermal sources in Kenya’s future energy security, a sustainability assessment of present geothermal activities was conducted to identify potential opportunities for improvements in both current and future developments. The assessment found, that generally, the sustainability benefits offered by geothermal activities in Kenya were high. The provision of a reliable base-load electricity supply has stimulated local and national economic development and promoted and enhanced social welfare. Although the operations are located within a national park, the environmental impact has been minimal. Whilst one potentially pressing long-term concern did emerge regarding reservoir fluid losses, as well as minor concerns relating to water consumption and the lack of inclusion of local communities in decision-making processes, these issues were considered manageable. It is hoped that the learning’s from the sustainability assessment can be captured and incorporated into a framework which could be used to improve current operations and guide future developments.

Subsequent to the confirmation of the sustainability benefits of geothermal activities, the findings of the research identified future opportunities for greater utilisation of geothermal resources in Kenya to enhance social and economic advancement. A number of opportunities were identified for integrating geothermal activities into strategic national development plans, particularly relating to the promotion of rural development initiatives and enhancing the scope of resource utilisation.

The study concluded that Kenya has a genuine opportunity to promote the benefits of energy sector reform, geothermal utilisation and, more broadly, sustainable development, as an exemplar to its regional neighbours. Whilst a large portion of the responsibility for the facilitation of that may rest with the national government, it will require supplementary support from developed nations through well-defined global mechanisms and financial incentives – something that will hopefully be developed in post-Kyoto agreements.

Finally, given the scope of the study, recommendations emerged for future action, relating to Kenya, East Africa and the international community.