Expansion of geothermal power is a major component of Kenya’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to global climate change mitigation and integral to the country’s ambition to become a middle-income country based on a climate-resilient green economy.

Olkaria I and IV power plants, rift valley area, Kenya. Photo: Oliver Johnson / SEI.

Abundant, low-carbon and climate-resilient, geothermal power is an attractive resource, with potential for additional heat applications in industry. As geothermal resources have been increasingly exploited over the past four decades, considerable technical expertise on geothermal has been established within the country’s state-owned utilities and ancillary services. However, attracting the private investments needed to develop the country’s geothermal resources at a swifter pace remains a challenge, hindered by a number of financial, political, social and environmental risks.

The authors survey the current geothermal scene, and discuss risks to future development. These include:

  • Financial risks – high exploration costs, high power-plant infrastructure costs
  • Political risks – offtaker viability and power purchase guarantees, bureaucracy at national and county levels
  • Social and environmental risks – community opposition and opposition from conservation groups, and
  • Uneven distribution of risks.

The authors conclude that the optimism around the potential for greater geothermal power development needs to be tempered with serious action to mitigate social and political risks. Geothermal development in Kenya has largely focused on nurturing a new industry and building technical expertise. But, as the sector has grown, so too have the challenges it faces, placing increased pressure on both the government and the private sector to pursue further development in a responsible manner and ensure the benefits of geothermal development are shared equitably.