Home > Green Energy > Why the upcoming wind power projects in Kenya must be viewed with suspicion

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    February 1, 2012 at 1:08 pm


  2. March 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Mr.Makau, what is your take on the discovery of oil in Turkana and the sudden rush for the area as well as the LAPPSET project, I mean the timing of the agreement and a refinery in Isiolo, Lamu refinery made sense but the Isiolo refinery and the airports as well……??

    • March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Hi Ndirangu, It might be too early to comment on the oil find in Turkana. Let the Euphoria die first then I can comment. I however subscribe to the fact that areas like Isiolo, Lamu and Turkana need such investments to grow like the rest of the country. This might be our chance to develop these areas.

  3. May 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Good article and your concerns are merited. For a country to be “introduced” to Wind Power Generation and the Wind Companies rhetoric one would think this is just a really good investment for the future of that country!
    In fact, your country will regret this “Green Energy” for many many reasons, and “clean, green, economical, power supply by wind is wrong on all accounts!
    This is nothing more than a huge money scam and an economic destructive Industry that has nothing more as it’s “aim” than to take over your power supply, money supply and in the end your lands and homes!
    Of course if you “trust” the United Nations and their “Sustainable Green Economy” (Agenda 21) they want Kenya to follow then by all means go ahead and embrace this “new” form of Energy Supply.
    My suggestion would be to run these guys out of your country on a rail!

  4. mwangy
    July 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Mwangy's Musings and commented:
    Awesome analysis

  5. August 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Great and very incisive article, Tom.

    I wanted to correct one thing as I think you mistook power factor (which is the ratio of real power vs apparent power in an electrical system) with the plant capacity/availability factor (which is a measure of how much power the plant can actually produce over a given time.

    LTWP claims a capacity factor of 60%. Without having seen the wind profile for their location, this is an extremely high capacity factor for wind power as typical land-based wind power projects are in the range of 20-30% and off-shore wind farms are in the 30-40% range.

    In my view, the LTWP portends an even bigger risk to the country unless Kenya Power has a plan in place to for “firm up” the national grid using alternative technologies to compensate for the 40% of time when power from the plant won’t be available or diminished. The Kenyan grid cannot survive a loss of power of that amount (more than 15%) whether gradually or suddenly – we saw what happened the other day when we had to import 30 MW from Uganda to restart the grid. This might mean relying on ultra-expensive diesel-fed Emergency Power Plants when the wind farm output declines, which calls into question the environmental credentials of the project (diesel is a net contributor of carbon, which the CDM would be claiming to offset) and completely negates the project being a source of cheaper power (since pass-through fuel costs constitute the largest portion of the power bill/tariff in Kenya).

    I think that the very least that should be done is for LTWP and Kenya Power to provide a study showing how the national grid will respond to the LTWP’s availability over a period of time and the mitigation measures to be taken to ensure no disruption.

    • August 15, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Thanks Evans for your comments. Much welcome. The article i read talked of power factor of 0.6 and not the capacity factor as you have clarified. Unless the article had also erroneously confused the two which i then propagated to my article. Thanks.

      • Evans
        August 16, 2012 at 7:32 am

        No problem, Tom. Keep up the good work!

  6. Climate Pete
    July 6, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    Tom is indeed misunderstanding what the expected 62% capacity factor means. You would connect transmission lines to handle 100% of the rated capacity of a generating source, in this case 310MW. However, these lines would be used only 62% of the time.

    Based on a $690 US contract price, a 5% interest rate (reasonable given the financial risk is low) and a 20 year repayment schedule, I estimate the cost of units of power to be 3.4 US cents per kWh. One presentation says this is 60% of the cost of new thermal (fossil fuel) generation. It is probably below the market priced fuel costs alone of (new or old) thermal generation as well, which means you get cheaper power with wind + thermal than you do with thermal alone.

    Far from being a problem, a combination of wind and hydro is, in fact ideal, provided the hydro is behind dams and not “run of the river” (which is take it or leave it like wind). When the wind is blowing you shut down hydro generation. When the wind stops you turn the hydro taps on – an ideal synnergy.

    The other point raised is whether you would have wind plus hydro or fossil fuel generating at the same time and have additional costs because you have to pay for both at once, even if you do not need it.

    This is unlikely to be a problem with Turkana. The wind blows down a funnel based on a constant temperature at a lake, and a temperature of a desert region which is going to heat up during the day and cool down at night. The wind, and therefore the power generated from it, is thus highly predictable, and there is no excuse for the grid controllers scheduling more generating capacity online at the same time than is required to handle expected variations in load and the possibility of single mechanical breakdown.

    • July 28, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      Sorry Pete hadnt see this comment in time to approve it. Based on the articles i read, they mentioned a power factor of 0.6 and not load factor. Also, the clarification on the dependability of the wind speed and blowing times has been clarified well by your comment. Thank you for the clarification and keep visiting the blog and commenting.

  1. September 15, 2014 at 4:28 pm

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