The plan to create a special economic zone in Menengai, Nakuru, has started taking shape after the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) officially kicked off direct use of geothermal steam to power industrial processes .

The special economic zone plan aims to power industries at one-third of their energy costs. Plants located in the special economic zone will also benefit from water drawn from the wells.

According to Manager, Direct use of Geothermal Energy at GDC, Engineer Esther Njuguna, the state owned firm was in talks with various local and foreign investors who intend to use geothermal steam in processes such as textile manufacturing, dairy processing, greenhouse and fish farming and health spas, which she said, would be done alongside the power generation.

Besides electricity, geothermal energy provides direct heat to industrialists, a by-product of electricity in the form of steam coming from power plants at about 1,500 degrees Centigrade which Engineer Njuguna observed was affordable and “a game changer in the manner in which Kenya’s wealth, as an emerging mid-income industrial society, will be generated.

While speaking at the GDC alternative geothermal steam use demonstration projects at Menengai Crater,Engineer Njuguna stated that the steam technology is set to place Kenya in the same league as USA, New Zealand and Iceland which have diversified use of geothermal energy away from traditional electricity generation for growth.

The demonstration projects include steam heated green houses, steam heated aquaculture ponds, geothermal milk pasteurizer plant, geothermal laundry unit and geothermal grain dryer.

“Direct use of geothermal energy is the next big thing for our country. It is revolutionary in the manner in which our wealth will be generated, as an emerging middle-income industrial society. We are dedicated to helping the national government realize Big 4 on Food Security and Manufacturing and Job Creation.

The special economic zone is expected to attract foreign direct investment and encourage export of value-added commodities — critical for job creation and improving the country’s current account,” the Manager pointed out.

She said the Menengai project will host both light and heavy industries, where heavy manufacturers will be supplied with subsidized electricity because of lower transmission costs from the power generation plants to the industrial hub.

Engineer Njuguna added “Geothermal energy is versatile and prolific. We need to exploit this potential in expanding our investment portfolios and opportunities as a country. That way, we shall support the government’s endeavors in job and wealth creation,”

While noting that geothermal heat was environmentally friendly and cheaper than the use of fossil fuels, the manager noted its use in appropriate food processing such as drying of grains and vegetables, milk pasteurization will save communities a great deal from the pains of post-harvest losses.

“That way we are assured of increased production and preservation and therefore improved food security,” stated Engineer Njuguna.

She explained that geothermal steam can also be utilized for a different range of applications ranging from tourism, leisure and domestic, depending on the resource temperature and usage.

“The direct use demo project was set up to showcase the viability of direct use technology and act as a marketing tool for GDC to potential investors, research and learning institutions and the community that surrounds the Menengai Crater.

The steam powered grain dryer, the first of its kind in Kenya and the region has a capacity of drying 20 tonnes of cereals per day.  GDC has embarked on commercializing the technology by inviting investors to use the technology to power processes in their firms or investments,” she stated.

Engineer Njuguna said that the use of geothermal steam in industrial processes will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that it was a reliable and available source of energy through all seasons.

“GDC is optimistic that these innovations will make Kenya a competitive investment hub as Industrialists will save a great deal on energy costs when they invest in geothermal steam powered facilities,” indicated the Manager.

She observed that if efficiently harnessed, geothermal heat will deliver energy that will enable farmers and food processors to increase production and improve food security.  The steam, he explained, can also be used in the industrial drying of fish, vegetables, tea, and pyrethrum and in brewing.

Engineer Njuguna added: “The geothermal fluid boosts tourist paradise in the form of medicinal spas, while in milk pasteurization manufacturers can cut up to 70 per cent of their heating costs by using geothermal energy. Other studies show that when it is used to heat greenhouses, the cost of production drops by about 40 per cent,”

She explained that steam harnessed from Menengai Crater Geothermal fields in Nakuru can be transported for about 10 kilometres through an elaborate reticulation of pipes and pumped into individual farms, Private homes and industries.

“Geothermal heated greenhouses, aquaculture ponds, dairy plants and geothermal powered laundries within that radius can negotiate with GDC for facilitation. Farmers and homeowners who use electric powered systems will save up to 50 per cent by switching to a geothermal system.

“The smallest single unit of geothermal powered milk plant can process between 250,000 to 500,000 litres of milk every day. Bahati constituency which hosts Menengai crater is one of Nakuru’s best tomato producers. With adoption of this new system of energy, farmers will improve yields by more than 30 per cent” affirmed the Manager.

 She explained that at 50 degrees centigrade, heated water is circulated around a greenhouse to control the humidity at night, early morning and during wet seasons of the year where humidity inside greenhouses rises above 85 per cent.

“Greenhouse heating cuts down on the use of fungicides by reducing humidity. A constant optimum temperature inside the greenhouse results in the enhanced growth rate of plants as well as quality. Profitability may go up by more than 30 per cent as well as increasing market share of the crops due to the use of green energy,” said Engineer Njuguna.

A feasibility study conducted by GDC recently indicated that a medium sized milk processing plant using geothermal energy for milk processing resulted in energy cost reduction of up to 60 per cent.

Geothermal energy will also come in handy in laundry systems. Heated water in the laundry can be used in the washers and dryers.

“In the laundry, the hot water to the washer is mixed with cold one to the required temperature of the clothes to be washed. The electrical heating element in the dryer is replaced with a specially designed fan coil unit which uses geothermal heated water at about 80 degrees centigrade to ensure the clothes are dry.

With regard to fish rearing, aquatic ponds are heated to and maintained at 29 degrees centigrade for optimal fish metabolism hence enhanced faster growth. Here, the geothermal heated water is mixed with cold water to attain the required temperature,” explained Engineer Njuguna.

She stated that maintaining aquatic ponds at a constant temperature of 29 degrees centigrade decreases the maturity period of Tilapia and catfish from nine to four months hence profitability is increased by more than 40 per cent.

According to the Renewables Global Status 2018, Kenya tops in Africa with 700 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power, retaining its place compared to last year.

The US has the largest geothermal generating capacity with 2,500 megawatts followed by the Philippines (1,900 MW), Indonesia (1,800 MW), Turkey (1,100 MW), New Zealand (1000 MW), Mexico (900 MW), Italy (800 MW) and Iceland (750 MW).

Kenya beats technological heavyweight Japan which has been ranked tenth with an output of 500 MW.

The rest of the world shares 950 MW. Ethiopia is the only other African country with developed geothermal energy (7 MW).

Geothermal is widely considered a preferable, low-cost renewable energy source due to low emissions when compared to thermal sources.

It is also cheaper than thermal power when used as an alternative to mitigate depressed hydro power generation due to drought. Kenya has a target of 5 gigawatts (GW) geothermal capacity by the year 2030.

Green energy power plants under development in Kenya include the 300 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Plant, which is the single largest wind power plant in Africa, the 70 MW Olkaria 1 and the 140 MW OlKaria V.