Kenya, like many developing countries, is at a cross roads in meeting rising energy demands for economic and other development needs. The energy crisis is acerbated by climate changes and fluctuating oil prices from the Middle East. The discovery of oil in Turkana and pockets of gas along the coast of Kenya is not good news yet as the extraction of these non-renewable forms of energy will take months if not years before they can support our energy needs as a country.
Ironically, Kenya has vast resources it can explore to generate the much needed energy for its economic development. And the encouraging news is that it is all renewable. Wind, solar, biofuels and micro-hydro electric power has not been fully explored. This is the reason the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) under the Programme for Financing Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency organized a one-day exposure visit to Meru and Embu on Friday 30th November 2012. The purpose of the visit was to expose stakeholders to alternative efficient green energy sources using water as a generator of power.
The exposure visit drew eighteen participants from the Water Sector stakeholders that included representatives from the Africa Nature Organization, and Water and Sanitation Companies from Nyeri, Thika, Kisii, Nzoia, Kakamenga and the larger Lake Victoria basin. The main interest for the stakeholders was to explore the possibility of replicating the green technology to curb rising cost of electricity in their respective activities.
The team, under the leadership of Mr.Jeff Murithi Murage of KAM, first visited the Imenti Tea Factory in Meru. The factory is under the management of Kenya Tea Development Agency Ltd (KTDA). It is 229km from Nairobi and 23km from Meru town at an altitude of 2000m. It sits next to Mt. Kenya forest and Mt. Ithangune.
The Regional Manager, Mr. Benjamin Okole, took the participants to their ‘Micro-Hydro Electricity Generation Project’ that was built completed in 2008. The micro-hydro electricity plant was built to meet the factory’s 720kw demand of power. The plant has the capacity of generating 900kw, 24hrs a day at 1.5m3/s of water flow. The whole project cost nearly Kshs. 180 million, the bulk of which was for the purchase of land from the community on which the canal lay, construction of the canal, intake and head pond.
The hydro-electricity plant draws water from Thingithu and Marimba rivers through a 730m canal, from the intake to the head pond. These rivers originate from Mt. Kenya. The canal is 1m deep and 3m wide and can hold 680m3 of water when full.
The project has, however, faced a number of challenges. The biggest challenge has been inadequate water flow due to increased usage of river water by the community. Most of the community water projects are illegal. This has compelled the plant to run intermittently at intervals of 3hrs to build volumes of water. In dry spells the plant runs at 40% capacity due to water flow at between 0.6m3/sec and 0.8m3/sec.
The challenges notwithstanding, the project, with a payback period of 10 years, has greatly reduced the energy cost at the factory and only uses electricity from the national grid as a backup. During the rainy season, the plant is able to produce enough for the factory and to upload the excess to the national electricity grid.
The other hydro-electricity plant to visit was the Embu Water and Sewerage Company plant. The plant situated 5km from Embu town was build through a grant from the people of Japan as a token of friendship. The ultra-modern plant is used to generate 75kw of hydro electricity and treat water. The water intake is 5km from plant with two parallel water pipes connecting the intake to the plant. The electricity generation and distribution of water to users is through gravity.