Why the upcoming wind power projects in Kenya must be viewed with suspicion
Recently, there have been major announcements in the media about Kenya’s foray into wind power generation. Several multinationals have made known their ambitious plans to supply the national grid with electric power generated from wind. This is based on the fact that wind is a renewable energy source and therefore causes no or minimal impact on the environment. With the recent escalation of world crude oil prices and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, generation of power from renewable sources makes a lot of sense.
A dutch consortium is behind the lake Turkana wind power (LTWP) that is installing what will be the largest wind power project in Africa that will generate 310 megawatts (MW) that will be fed into the national grid. This is a lot of power considering Kenya’s peak demand stands at 1302 MW.
General Electric, the American giant has also set up camp in Kenya and made an announcement to the effect that it was at an advanced stage of planning a wind turbine farm in Kenya to generate electricity. These are indeed welcome initiatives that will go a long way into easing the power supply deficit that Kenya faces especially during dry spells when the hydro-electric dams that generate most of Kenya’s electric power.
With Kenya Power Company being the sole distributor of electricity in Kenya, these wind power companies have signed long-term contracts with them to supply them with power. However, if you read the fine print in these contracts, the following comes to light:
- These contracts bind Kenya Power Company to buy electricity from the wind power generators “when they generate”. In short this means that if wind blows and the wind turbines generate power, Kenya power must buy that power. This is irrespective of the fact that at that instance of time, the hydro-dams are full to capacity or whether it had asked diesel power generating firms to supply them with power over the same period. In short, assuming a situation where there is no wind and the weatherman predicted a no wind situation for 6 hours,Kenya power will ask a diesel-powered generation company such as IberAfrica to supply it with say 200MW for 6 hours, and if by some miracle in the 3rd hour, wind starts blowing and the wind company can now produce power, Kenya Power will have to buy both the Diesel and wind power to avoid breach of contract even if it does not need that power. The effect is that the consumer will be burdened with higher electricity bills due to Kenya power entering into such long-term and inefficient contracts.
- The power quality supplied by the wind power companies is of a poorer quality. Ideal power has a power factor of 1. Good quality power (like that from Hydro) has a power factor of 0.8. The power to be supplied by the wind companies has a power factor of 0.6. In layman’s terms, power factor can be termed as the efficiency of the power supplied so that 10Mw at a power factor of 1 yields 10MW, at a power factor of 0.8 yields 8Mw and at 0.6 yields 6MW of effective work done. So to do work on an electric device that needs 1MW, you will need to supply (1/0.6) i.e 1.67 MW from wind power or (1/0.8) i.e. 1.25 MW from hydro. The real world effect of this is overheating of power lines and equipment and damaged equipment and appliances will be the norm with such poor power factors. Over-excited Synchronous condensers can be used to correct the supplied power factor to a higher value than 0.6, however, this burden lies with Kenya power and not the supplier. This of course means higher costs that will be passed on to you and me the tax payer/end-user.
The truth behind the whole “sustainable/green power generation” phenomenon that has hit these companies is they are after carbon credits. The fact that some of these companies setting up base here have questionable environmental practices back in their home countries, the only way they can be allowed to continue with their uncontrolled pollution of the environment in their home countries that have set up strict anti-pollution laws is by buying carbon credits. By coming to Africa and generating wind power, they earn their carbon credits in Africa and take them back home as atonement for their environmental sins.