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Now We're Cooking with Steam! **

By Baljit Wadhwa, GEF Evaluation Office

Development of Geothermal Energy in Kenya: The role of the Joint Geophysical Imaging (JGI) Project on the Road to Impact

Kenya, Africa's first nation to drill for geothermal power, is seeking to tap the Rift Valley's vast steam reserves, estimated to contain between 7 and 10 gigawatts of geothermal power potential, to access a clean, reliable and abundant source of energy. Determining the best places and methods to drill for this power arising from the earth's core is no easy feat, but oh-so-important to reduce the otherwise prohibitive costs of exploration.

Implemented by UNEP and active between July 2002 and June 2008, the Joint Geophysical Imaging (JGI) for Geothermal Reservoir Assessment project received a GEF grant of US$979,059, an additional US$1.22 million from partner Kenya Electricity Generating Company Ltd. (KenGen) and additional cofinancing of US$1.75 million for a total budget of US$2.73 million. The JGI project objective was to generate methods to increase the efficiency of geophysical exploration, thereby reducing the upfront costs of producing this renewable energy and thus increasing its production and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The project activities centered on:

  • Capacity building through training of KenGen scientists through work-exchange programs as well as studies with second project partner, Duke University and
  • Design and test of JGI instrument pool of portable equipment – along with laboratory and field validation in Kenya and abroad. The Terminal Evaluation was completed in January 2009.

In October 2011, the GEF Evaluation Office (GEF EO) undertook a mission seeking to verify the information in the terminal evaluation as well as assess the project's progress to beneficial impact. At the time of the project's completion, the project had achieved its objectives and received a rating of "moderately satisfactory" for effectiveness, but was tagged as having a "moderately likely" chance that sustainability of outcomes was at risk. Prior to the mission GEF EO reviewed project documents and secondary literature as background to discussions with past and present project stakeholders. The main focus of the meetings was to ask after the role of the JGI technology in the development of geothermal energy as well as current capacity of individuals and institutions to spur it to greater scale.

The GEF Evaluation Office was able to independently verify the following project results to date:

  • The JGI-based geophysical exploration probe is now an international standard for mapping methodology and has led to cheaper geothermal kilowatts per hour
    The KenGen JGI research has been shared with the international community through forums such as the World Geothermal Congress of the International Geothermal Association. In 2005 the research received a recognition of excellence from the Geothermal Resource Council. Subsequent publications[2]have also contributed to the acceleration of JGI as the heart of development of geothermal exploration techniques.
  • Development of equipment now used extensively in Kenya for exploration and other African countries (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Comoros) as well as Turkey, Iceland and other areas with geothermal resources
    The geophysical equipment purchased under the JGI project in Kenya is being deployed by KenGen in other countries and use of the JGI methodology is mapping high permeability zones leading to the location of high production wells. Stakeholders[3] recount that the JGI methodology is expected to directly contribute to the removal of geothermal resource exploration and assessment barriers and thus reduce implementation costs related to geothermal energy development.
  • Scaling up of the project by a newly entity, the Kenya Geothermal Development Company (GDC)
    The GDC began operations as the JGI project ended in 2009. The separate agency was conceived in 2004 as part of reforms in the country's energy sector. The Geothermal Development Company is a fully owned government vehicle that undertakes surface exploration of geothermal fields based on maps generated using the JGI methodology; undertakes exploratory, appraisal and production drilling, develops and manages proven steam fields and enters into steam sales agreements with investors in the power. Those reforms laid the ground for the introduction of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in Kenya.
  • Capacity sharing by JGI-trained KenGen scientists and technicians
    Many KenGen technicians were recipients of geothermal training through a program of the United Nations University (UNU). Most of these individuals remain with KenGen and are now sufficiently experienced and versed in methods that they lead short courses in Kenya. The UNU-Geothermal Training Program (GTP), KenGen and now Geothermal Development Company (GDC) are discussing modalities of making the short courses a permanent school for the region.
  • Drilling of additional geothermal wells
    The JGI methodology was to be validated through drilling one highly productive well, the location of which to be determined by the JGI methodology. At completion, the JGI approach was used for locating six wells on the Olkaria Dome, with positive results. Since that time the GEFEO was able to verify the addition of new well heads by KenGen in the Olkaria Dome with drilling moving forward in the reservoirs identified by the JGI project for expansion. The expansion project is expected to be completed by 2013 and will add 280MW of power to the grid. In November 2011, The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Climate Investment Fund (CIF) announced US$25 million and US$80 million financing respectively, to develop with GDC a geothermal steam field at Menengai in Kenya. The project, using JGI methodology, aims to develop the Menengai field, capable of generating 400 MW of power to be produced by IPPs.
  • Kenyan government's increased commitment to the geothermal energy development
    In July 2011, the country's Energy Regulatory Commission stated it hopes to generate about 30 percent of the country's electrical power from geothermal sources by 2031 through expenditure of up $50 billion over the next two decades to meet the country's rising electricity demands by developing new steam fields.

The need for detailed exploration and the high cost and risk of exploratory drilling, compounded by institutional and regulatory barriers, have prevented the past exploitation of geothermal energy in the region. The Evaluation Office's verification of the JGI project results found considerable evidence of progress towards impact, i.e. realization of global environmental benefits by increasing Kenya's proportion of electricity production from geothermal sources and the associated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. GEF's support to developing the JGI methodology has inspired geothermal activities in the region with potential for the far reaching benefits of clean, local energy.

The GEF Evaluation Office views efforts by the GEF and its partners to remain engaged in geothermal energy development in Kenya as critical to the country's progress to impact and for addressing remaining institutional and technical barriers.[4]

** Although common place today, gas stoves have not always been the norm. Gas stoves started to be available in the 1800's, and until that time wood stoves were the standard. “Now you're cooking with gas" is an American Idiom that comes from an old advertisement for gas stoves.

[1] Although common place today, gas stoves have not always been the norm. Gas stoves started to be available in the 1800's, and until that time wood stoves were the standard. "Now you're cooking with gas" is an American Idiom that comes from an old advertisement for gas stoves.

[2] Dr. Peter E. Malin, Professor & Director of the Institute of Earth Science and Engineering, University of Auckland, New Zealand, along with his colleague and former student from the JGI project, Dr. Stephen Onacha, have been particularly prolific in their papers and lectures on the application of Joint Geophysical Imaging for fractured reservoirs for geothermal resources.

[3] Views expressed by senior staff at KenGen, Geothermal Development Company and UNEP.

[4] As of October 2010, the World Bank is supporting an Electricity Expansion Project in Kenya, expected to channel a total investment of US$1,391 million, of which the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA), is providing US$330 million, to expand energy access with clean geothermal power and new transmission lines. To replicate the success of geothermal development in Kenya, throughout the region, an African Rift Geothermal Facility (ARGeo) for financial risk mitigation was established with support from the GEF. The project, initiated by six countries - Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania is currently on hold. 


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