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Kenya’s Lake Turkana points the way forward for African wind power

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 31 July 2019 18:51

Wind turbines at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Loiyangalani district, northern Kenya, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Africa's biggest wind power plant, a 310MW wind farm on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya launched in July, can be a catalyst for future wind projects in the region.

The cost of around $700m makes the Lake Turkana plant the largest private investment in Kenya’s history. The project offers a model for wind power development in Africa, says Helena Teppana, associate director of the Helsinki-based Finnfund, and who is on the project board.

According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa needs to invest $300bin to reach full electricity access by 2030. Kenya has a target of 100% green energy by 2020. Finnfund estimates that the Turkana project will reduce outages by 10% to 15% and lead to a 13% reduction in the cost of electricity.

Turkana is drawing visits from parties wanting to learn about it, Teppana says. Finnfund holds a 12.5% stake in the project and filled an equity gap that meant lenders could go ahead and implementation could start. At the time, the investment was Finnfund’s largest ever, and is still in the top three, Teppana says.

Delays

The project took over a decade to complete. Teppana says that the huge size of the project contributed to the delays. “It’s hard to find enough partners to share the risk [on such a project],” she says.

  • A major issue was the transmission line, managed by the government, which was delayed due to problems with contractors.
  • These delays led Finnfund to question its investment, she says.

Spin-offs

Transport infrastructure spin-offs, says Teppana, are “extremely important”. The area now has scheduled bus services for the first time, and fish are being brought to market much quicker.

  • A Finnfund report says rebuilding the 200km of road between Loiyangalani and Laisamis, as part of the project, reduced transport time from between one to two days to just four hours.
  • Increased road traffic and lower food prices in the local markets together with higher incomes for fishermen, were also among the results.
  • Other benefits include borehole drilling to improve water supply, and the creation of medical storage facilities, Teppana says.

Henrik Frøsig, investment director at the Investment Fund for Developing Countries in Copenhagen, which holds a 6.2% stake in the project, says building the project near a city would have been easier because of the availability of existing infrastructure. The remote location was chosen, however, because the wind strength was measured as the strongest in the world on land.

The hardest part, says Frøsig, was getting all the financial partners on board, a process that he says took two years.

  • Lake Turkana will speed up future wind projects as the contracts and frameworks are now already in place, he argues. “Kenya is now a frontrunner in wind technology development.”
  • Frøsig sees opportunities for wind power projects in East African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia.
  • Once financing packages and government approvals are secured, wind farm projects can be completed in 18 months, he says.

The bottom line: Electricity-poor African countries should look to Turkana in a bid to change the mix.

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