Kenya Wind Power





Income energy


1. Need to reduce energy imports
2. Need to reduce outputs of climate altering gases, especially carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.
3. Renewable energy sources in Kenya:


4. Profitability of wind in Califiornia.
5. Complementary advantages of wind with hydro power.
6. Advantages of Kenya's wind regime over California's.
7. Possible financial and legal regimes.
8. California independent electricity suppliers.


Kenya's Energy and Cutting the Import Bill
Kenya imports energy in the form of oil and oil products. Most of this oil is used for transport but some is used for industrial purposes, rural energy for such purposes as water pumping and electricity generation. There is a thermal power station at the Coast. The fuel for the thermal stations and some industrial processes should be replaced by renewable energy sources..
Kenya has four main sources of renewable energy which do not require fuel to be imported. These are:

Hydroelectric power, mainly on the Tana River;

Biomass in the form of biogas and alcohol from agricultural by-products;

Wind Power from the Kano Plains convection system in Nyanza Province;

Solar Energy, especially in the cloud-free arid zone of northern Kenya;

There may be other sites suitable for collecting wind energy, for example at the Coast.
In addition there is the geothermal power of the Rift Valley, the only one not derived from solar energy.
Of these, the Tana River hydroelectricity is approaching full utilisation. Biomass in the form of alcohol to be added to motor fuel as gasohol is growing and there is considerable potential for biogas, as yet unutilised. Solar power for electricity awaits technological improvement in the equipment needed to convert sunlight to electricity, though solar water heating ought to be built into every new building. However, solar conversion of sunlight might well make Kenya a major supplier of energy in the future, probably in the form of hydrogen to replace oil products for transport.

The first three of these energy sources are viable in present day conditions, as they could all be shown to produce a financial return which would make them suitable subjects for investment. Solar power awaits a reduction of the cost of conversion - which is likely in the near future (2012 - now achieved). Financial conditions may be on the point of changing because of awareness of the need to reduce pollution both on a local level and on a world scale.

This paper proposes a wind generating farm on the lines of the successful and profitable system at Altamont Pass in California.

Carbon dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect
It is now known that carbon dioxide emissions are causing a change in the world climates, including that of Kenya. It is desirable to reduce the output of carbon dioxide which comes from burning the fossil fuels oil and coal. The only way to do this is to develop the renewable energy sources: wind, sun, tidal and hydro. Kenya's geothermal energy can be added to this list, because, although it is not entirely renewable, it does not produce carbon dioxide. In some areas winds produce waves on the sea which can be harnessed, and the sun produces a hot layer in the sea which can produce energy if used in conjunction with the cold deep waters. (see OTEC).

It seems likely that in the near future there will be a world program to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. To be effective this will need to include a tax on carbon fuels, probably at the production source (oilwell or coal mine), to set up a fund for researching into and investing in renewable energy sources. Ideally this tax would be administered by a worldwide body. The tax would have the effect of raising the cost of oil to consumers, perhaps by quite a large amount. The intention would be that they would use less fossil fuel and would turn to alternatives. Kenya would be in a strong position to ask for help from this fund to increase the rate of investment in non-carbon energy supplies. (2012 - we are still waiting.)

In the meantime wind generated electricity ought to be installed on the grounds that it is already profitable at the present low energy prices. As energy prices rise the value of the wind energy can only increase while its cost will not rise so much.

If all these renewable resources are developed, Kenya can look forward to a time when energy imports will become a small proportion of present needs, and even to the possibility of energy exports in the form of hydrogen.

Even without a carbon tax, oil industry analysts predict a rise in oil prices because at present demand is rapidly increasing, whereas production and exploration are not. (see also Peak Oil)

Local air pollution
Another aspect of the use of oil products is the various kinds of pollution found in countries where petrol driven cars and diesel vehicles are used in large numbers. This pollution causes health problems to humans and reductions in crop yield. In Europe there is serious damage to forests. There is now considerable pressure, especially in West Germany, Switzerland and California, to reduce the pollution from motor vehicles. In California this has resulted in a state government declaration to phase out the use of petroleum products in road vehicles. At present the government there envisages the replacement of petrol and diesel oil by methanol derived from natural gas or by electric vehicles. In Europe governments support increased use of electrified rail services.

Nairobi also suffers from the pollution from vehicle exhausts. Nairobi could probably reduce local pollution by replacing some of the Matatus with electric Light Rail (tramways) in the city which would also reduce some of the traffic congestion. Another promising alternative, for the long run, is hydrogen powered vehicles. Hydrogen should be of especial interest to Kenya because it could be made from local electricity and would help reduce almost to nothing Kenya's oil import bill. Experimental hydrogen buses and cars are in operation in Sweden and West Germany. At present their capital cost is higher than oil driven vehicles but reductions in costs are probable in the near future. It is too soon to know yet whether the cost of hydrogen-powered vehicles can be brought down to compete with the highly priced taxed oil. If it does, some of the wind energy could be used for producing hydrogen at the site without feeding power into the grid. In future it is conceivable that hydrogen might also be produced in northern Kenya from the abundant solar energy available there.

Long term energy implications
It should be noted that countries like Kenya could be in a strong economic position in the next (21st) century as renewable energy sources become more important. The present major industrial powers have based their strength on burning oil and coal. If they can no longer allow themselves to do this because of the environmental effects, the countries which have plenty of solar and wind power will become relatively richer in energy terms than northern hemisphere countries with less solar power. Public opinion will probably not permit more nuclear power stations to be constructed unless they can be demonstrated to be much safer than they are at present

In place of oil products hydrogen from countries with strong sunlight is likely to be the main item of energy trade.

 The Geography of Kenya's Wind Power

The people of the Lake-side plains lands of Kenya live within a potential source of power more useful than an oilfield. Although they have no significant sources of water power or coal they live in what can be described as a giant natural heat engine. This is the wind circulation system caused by the difference in temperatures of the sun-baked Kano Plains and the cooler waters of the Lake. Air rises from the plains from about 11.00 a.m. as they heat up; this pulls in air from the lake and a substantial wind blows throughout the area until the land cools down and temperatures equalise at about sunset. Unlike an oilfield this will not be exhausted as long as the sun shines.

This system has been noticed for many years and has been used to a small extent for pumping water and generating electricity and for sailing boats. However, on a small scale wind electricity is still rather more expensive than centrally generated electricity, if this is available. The main reason for this is the need to use batteries to store electricity for use when the wind is not blowing. A second reason is that small generators cost more per watt than large.

In recent years changes in the technology of wind power have produced the possibility of off-the-peg generators of a large size which, in conjunction with a National Grid system connecting varied types of power generation, will generate electricity which can complement the other modes at a competitive cost. This is especially useful where the main load is being provided by water power, which can be turned on and off instantly. When wind generated electricity is fed into the Grid there is no need for storage on site. The electricity would be used as it is generated.

 Large scale wind farms are already producing commercially saleable electricity in California.
The Kano Plains wind system has three important advantages over the California wind farms:
1. the daily strength of the wind is very predictable;
2. the seasonal variation is much less than in California;
3. most of Kenya's power comes from water power.

The first two allow the owners of the grid distribution system to predict the power output from the wind farm and balance it with the output from the hydro stations. The advantage of water power is that it can be controlled easily by opening and shutting valves. In practice, allowing for variations in demand throughout the day, as the wind velocity rises the water power would be turned off. Thus the storage function of power would be transferred to the river.

In the long run this would allow the same quantity of water in the Tana River to produce more electricity than at present by building more generators to use the water saved, when the wind is not blowing. Thermal stations, which cannot be turned on and off easily, can provide a continuous base load as at present (but a combination of water and wind may allow thermal stations, using imported fuel, to be phased out).

The dry season, when the river flow diminishes, is also the time when the plains are hotter so that a survey can be expected to show that the wind is stronger when water is most restricted.

 Fig.1 The Kano plains area is like a bowl. The flat plain is surrounded by an escarpment which undoubtedly has an effect on the wind direction. These effects need to be surveyed to discover the best sites and wind regime of the whole area.
 Fig.2 The sites indicated here are very general and are merely to show that the convection wind is likely to be found over the whole area.

A study of the wind regime of the area would need to find out wind behaviour round such sites as the numerous dead volcanic cones. Possibly the tops of these cones would be suitable sites. It may well be possible to site generators on land which is not otherwise useful for cultivation. The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in Britain claimed that grazing can continue near wind sites. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company make the same point (1) - dry grazing continues under the turbines at Altamont so that the farmers get two incomes from the land - the rent from the power company as well as the value of the grazing. (Of course if the farmer has a share in the power company he gains the income from that as well.)

How much power is available in the Kano wind? Only a wind survey can answer this for sure. The Altamont Pass (California) windfarm, started in 1982, included 20 wind turbines manufactured by the British Wind Energy Group installed in 1986. Each of these was rated at 250 kilowatts, to make a total rated power of 5 megawatts. By 1988 there were over 7000 turbines, including turbines supplied by many other manufacturers, with a total installed capacity of 750 MW. However, the amount of power produced depends on the actual windspeed. In 1986 the highest recorded average power output was 160 kilowatts from each WEG unit. This installation has produced 12 million kwh per year. The Pass as a whole produced 880 million kwh in 1987.

The Altamont Pass wind is produced by hot air rising off the San Joaquin Valley 60 km east of San Francisco. This wind is funnelled through the Pass which increases its velocity and therefore the available power. Wind speeds vary from 16-28 mph during the period May to August, the period when wind turbines in this area produce 60-70% of their annual output. Wind in this area gains strength in the afternoon and dies away by early morning. This is a contrast to the pattern in the Lakeside areas of Nyanza Province in Kenya where wind tends to rise by 11 a.m. in the morning and die away by sunset. The seasonal variation in California is of interest because there is a much smaller seasonal variation in Kenya. If a wind turbine can be profitable in a period of 4 months in California it is likely to be much more profitable in Kenya when it can produce power during the whole year. 

 Economics & Finance
Getting the Winam Wind project started is not a technical problem. Suitable machines exist. Manufacturers will supply them as a turn-key outfit. The problem is entirely one of political decision and finding the best corporate and financial structure.

Until recently most British-influenced countries have assumed that large projects of this kind have to be state-owned and financed. The privatisation revolution has changed all that. The Channel Tunnel project has shown the possibility of finance from other sources for very large civil engineering projects (state finance is forbidden under the terms of the Channel Tunnel treaty between Britain and France). Winam Wind Power is, in contrast to the Channel Tunnel, a tiny project. And, as will be seen in the section on California, wind power need not be a large scale project at all.

One way of looking at it is to see the wind as the principal natural resource owned by the people living in the area. If this natural resource is used to produce power which is owned by a company, whether state or privately owned, the people whose land will be used to site the power machines will not benefit except in a very indirect way. In the case of a multinational private company there is a danger that the local people wouldn't benefit at all except in the greater availability of electricity (which they might have no money to pay for). In the case of a state owned company the profits would go to the government and would still not be in the control of the local people.
A communally-owned company, perhaps owned by local government or by non-governmental cooperative organisations would feed the profits back to where the wind is and could be a powerful instrument of local development.

The financial problem here is that whereas capital for a large project can be obtained by a state corporation or a private company a cooperative has great difficulties.

The solution might be, as with the Channel Tunnel, to set up a private company which builds and operates the power scheme under a concession which will expire at a defined time but which would have to assign a part of the profits to the local people. In addition the plants should pay rent for the land on which they are built. The local government would benefit by a business tax. On expiration the company should revert to the local people.

How profitable is it likely to be? This depends on the wind surveys and the costs of building and maintenance. Building costs are likely to be higher than in California because of the comparative lack of infrastructure. Negotiation to set up the company would have to establish the rate of profitability in order to prevent local taxes and rates from making the project uneconomic. This means defining the price paid for electricity generated in the plant. In California this price reflects the cost the company would incur to generate the electricity by other means. The amount paid is fixed by a complex formula which includes variations for three or four different states of energy demand. Thus electricity supplied by an independent producer during the mid morning peak demand period gets a higher price than electricity produced during the night time off-peak period.

The contracts were supervised by the California State Energy Commission, the regulatory body appointed by the state government.

"Operating and maintenance costs in the first year amounted to .6¢ a kwh. ... The necessary conditions (for profitability) are that annual wind speeds are 7.5 metres/second or greater and that long-term buy back contracts of 5¢/kwh can be negotiated. Because energy capture is proportional to the cube of the windspeed, higher speed wind sites would mean a greater energy output for the same capital cost and hence a lower buy back rate would be acceptable." (2)

Possibly under Kenya conditions the operating and maintenance costs would be higher, but the price of electricity from competing sources is likely to be higher too so that a higher buy back price might be achievable. The larger part of the costs will be the servicing of the capital raised to build the plant - interest and depreciation.

Greater wind predictability in Kenya would justify a higher price for electricity delivered to the KP & L grid than the California price because it would complement the hydro plants and extend their productivity. In California the output was greater in summer than in winter but wind variability meant that it could not be predicted in advance how much output there would be in any one week. This situation would probably be much better in Kenya. The grid controllers would be able to instruct the Tana River stations when to adjust for wind input.
For more data on the financing of the California system see the last section of this paper - The California System.

 Foreign Exchange

The machinery would have to be imported. This means that there is a large foreign exchange element in the construction - an element which does not exist in economies with free exchange rules such as the European Community and the United States. Part of the problem of financing such projects in closed currency areas is the necessity to arrange for part of the profits to be used to repay the foreign exchange element of the finance. The electricity will be used locally within the country. In part it will substitute for the import of oil - both for that used in the thermal power stations and for some industries which at present use oil instead of electricity. In general it should increase the productive capacity of the economy. Thus the project adds to overseas debt without directly producing an export but to some extent substituting for an import - as hydroelectric and other types of generating capacity do also. This makes some degree of government participation probable. My own understanding of finance is insufficient to allow me to suggest how this can be resolved.
But this is a project which is likely to grow. The initial construction would convert only a small fraction of the available power from wind. Later construction should be locally manufactured. In later stages it would be reasonable to expect the contractors to use local components and build up a local industry by increasing the local content. If Kenya adopts windpower early there is the possibility of becoming an exporter of equipment to others. Wind power is an industry which is likely to grow quickly as the dangers of excess CO2 production sink in. There are almost certainly many other sites in East Africa with similar wind systems, especially around the shores of Lake Victoria. Bukoba in Tanzania is likely to be one of these. Others may be found at the Coast.


There will be employment during the construction and some employment to operate and maintain the plant. The construction employment will be mostly unskilled and semi-skilled, with some highly skilled engineering, design and installation work. Some of the high-skilled work would be supplied by foreigners. The operation and maintenance will also be highly skilled but this offers the chance of training Kenyans to a similar level to those operating hydro stations. Thus, as is the way of high technology, there won't be a large number of jobs for the local people. This makes it all the more important that a portion of the profits go to them. However, wind plants can be highly automated. Provided the machinery is well designed it needs little supervision, so that long term employment is fairly small. If the manufacture of wind turbines could be undertaken within the country, this would offer the chance of industrial employment.

 The Technology

The technology is already available off the peg. The apparatus used would probably be fixed propeller turbines. The direction can be fixed because the wind direction is constant. In sites where the wind varies in direction, as in Britain, the propeller must be able to face the wind, or a different type of device (a vertical axis) must be used. The fixed direction type should be cheaper.
The output of the wind turbines would conform to the characteristics of the Grid System - 50 cycles - and would be stepped up to the normal grid transmission voltage.

The main expertise required is a study of sites within the area to find places with the most reliable wind, both in force and direction. (Compare the health centre wind pump placed at the former Mbita Ferry which was sited on the wrong side of the peninsula where there is little wind.)
In Altamont rows of generators are used across the wind direction. A gap of 4 km is allowed between rows to avoid turbulence caused by a propeller in the first row affecting the one behind.

Stages in setting up a Wind Farm
1 - study of wind regime
2 - selection of suitable sites
3 - negotiation of land rights
4 - design of generator arrays (placing within the site)
5 - building
Probably all these (except 3) would be done by the contractors such as WEG (mentioned in Chartered Mechanical Engineer) (3).
Investments Needed
1. Wind Turbines
2. Grid Extension
3. Modifications to control equipment of Grid controllers
4. Additional water turbines on hydro stations

Wind Turbines are the primary investment needed, but not the only one. Investment planners should take into account all the aspects of the scheme.

Grid extensions will be needed to connect the new power source to the national grid, possibly strengthening some sections of the existing grid to cope with new current flows. Nyanza is at present a consumer of power. When the wind power station is in place Nyanza will be a major supplier during the day, though it will remain only a consumer at night. If the wind system built up gradually the extension of the grid might well be subsumed in the regular upgrading programs required by increasing demand.

The controlling software of the central grid controller may need to be modified to take account of the new sources of energy and the need to anticipate wind power and reduce the hydro generation during the period of high wind speed.

To get the full economic benefit of wind power there may need to be additional water turbines on the Tana River hydro stations to make good use of the water saved during the day. This will have the effect of increasing the difference in water height of the reservoirs behind the dams. It will have some of the effects of a pumped storage scheme in which low-cost base load electricity is used to pump water up to a lake during the night for use during times of peak load. Reservoirs will tend to rise during the day and to fall from sunset until the wind comes on stream at about 11.00 a.m. Environmental investigations will be needed to see whether the increased range of water heights is acceptable.

Quite possibly the extra water turbines will not be needed in the first stage of investment but can wait until a later stage when the reliability of wind power has been tested and proved by a period of successful operation.

A useful feature of wind farms is that extra units can be added. Unlike a nuclear station for example, there is no long period (up to ten years in the case of many nuclear stations) when money borrowed is not earning its keep. The actual construction time of each unit is very short. Each machine can start producing a saleable output as soon as it is erected and connected to the grid.

One problem that was not apparent when this paper was first written is Climate Change. The melting of the glaciers on Mount Kenya - rapidly shrinking - will reduce the water available in the Tana Rriver outside the rainy season. If no water is coming off the mountain there will be no flow for generating electricity - or indeed for irrigation and drinking water. 14/10/2009

 The California System (4)

(Obsolete, as this regime was abolished by the deregulation that led to the collapse of the California electric system in early 2001)

The California Public Utilities Commission supervises a regime set up under a State Law which requires the Power Companies to accept any electricity generated by independent suppliers. This law was passed during the oil crisis of the early 1970s when there was an urgent need to find substitutes for the oil which had suddenly become more expensive and subject to the Arab oil embargo.

In the early period after the passing of this law there were tax advantages to people investing in wind and solar power schemes. People with large incomes could invest in wind and solar power and offset the losses against their income tax. These tax advantages have been withdrawn subsequently. However, the result of the tax breaks was to make it attractive to build wind power turbines. The great increase in demand for wind turbines reduced the capital cost as manufacturers improved the design and reduced the manufacturing cost. This reduction has benefited everyone as wind turbines are now much more affordable than before California started to encourage wind power. The other result of course is that the tax breaks are no longer needed because the reduced capital cost makes wind power cheaper than most other methods of generating electricity.

The power companies have responded to the requirements of the law by organising a department to make contracts with independent suppliers. This department must evaluate whether the supplier can supply power reliably and safely. These contracts are for 20-30 years of supply. (This should be contrasted with the inadequate 6 or 7 years being offered by the British Government apparently under European rules).

The result has been that electricity is being offered to the utility company from many different sources. These include: small hydroelectric schemes, from 100 kilowatts to as much as a megawatt; co-generation or combined heat and power schemes in which natural gas is used to produce electricity while the heat is used for space heating or industrial processes; biogas from large animal feedlots, garbage dumps or sewage works; electricity generated by burning wood waste from sawmills; wind turbines and solar schemes. So much new power was offered that the company complained(5) that they now have excess generating capacity. In a world where the production of Carbon-dioxide must be controlled this is not going to be a serious problem for long. (The main problem of the Company seems to be that they have some very expensive Nuclear Power stations which they have to use all out, even though the alternatives are cheaper. There would undoubtedly be financial problems if they closed any of their nuclear capacity. Perhaps they have issued bonds linked directly to the nuclear capacity.

Since there is now no tax-loss allowable, all the schemes need to make money for the investor based on the price paid by the utility for the electricity produced.

This regime has encouraged the installation of 2 million kilowatts of wind power in the Pacific Gas area alone(5), as well as 4 million kilowatts of co-generation and 160,000 kilowatts of geothermal power. So far only 16,000 kilowatts of solar power have been installed which reflects the fact that solar power is still not competitive in costs with other methods. The installed solar power in fact represents experimental rather than commercial apparatus. The co-generation represents a great increase of efficiency of energy use since the gas is able to produce two types of energy. In conventional thermal power stations the waste heat is often not used so that the overall efficiency of thermal electricity systems is very low.

Prices paid for energy vary according to several factors: time of day and season are the most important, as energy supplied at peak demand period is the most valuable; reliability is another factor - wind in California is less reliable than systems based on Natural Gas or hydro power. Public utilities have to supply electricity on demand and have to maintain generators which may only be needed for short periods. The capital cost has to be paid for whether they are operating or not. In California prices paid are higher in the summer when air conditioners increase the demand (but wind speed is greater then, too). The price paid to independent producers is not arbitrary. It is based on the cost to the company of providing the power itself from its own resources.

Could this energy regime be adopted in Kenya? California is a wealthy state and has many people in it able to invest in these power projects. In Kenya it might be more suitable for companies and cooperatives to invest. The advantage would be that many small sources of power could be used. As well as the Winam Wind resource there are many small hydroelectric sites on smaller rivers and streams which could produce power. A large organisation such as the KP&L would find it difficult to develop these small sites, but a village development cooperative or small company would be able to manage them, provided they were assisted by the necessary skilled organisations, such as construction companies and maintenance companies. The gains to Kenya would be a large indigenous energy supply which could reduce reliance on imported energy. It would also be a Kenyan contribution to preventing the world problem of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As in California the KP&L would have to set up a division to deal with these smaller power generators to ensure that they produce power safely and of the quality required. There would need to be legislation to incorporate the advantages of the California system, including a regulatory organisation to oversee the interests of the public and prevent the exploitation of small producers.

 Literature referred to

Altamont Pass Windfarms leaflet by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Sept. 1988.
A publication of the company, explaining the scope of the wind generating facilities.

Dr. David Lindley: Economical Windfarming Chartered Mechanical Engineer February 1988 p.17
An article describing the behaviour of wind turbines designed by a British group

Power Producers' Interconnection Handbook (Pacific Gas and Electric Company 1989)
The basic text for contractors wishing to offer electricity to the PE&G utility, containing the technical and financial conditions required to be fulfilled. (Obsolete since deregulation)
Cogeneration and Small Power Production Quarterly Report third quarter 1989 (Pacific Gas & Electric Company ).
A list of suppliers classified by method of generation, quantities and contract type. (Obsolete since deregulation).

 Foot Notes

(1) Altamont Pass Windfarms leaflet by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Sept 1988.

(2) Dr. David Lindley Economical Windfarming Chartered Mechanical Engineer February 1988 p.17

(3) Based on Power Producers' Interconnection Handbook (Pacific Gas and Electric Company 1989)

(4) Cogeneration and Small Power Production Program - an Overview, page 5
"In early 1988 the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission issued a joint report to the state legislature on excess generating capacity in California. The report noted that there is currently an imbalance in the supply and demand for electricity.
After years of effort, the state's major electric utilities brought on line two nuclear power plants (San Onofre and Diablo Canyon), both of which are currently operating at high capacity. During these years (QFs - Alternative suppliers) also signed contracts to provide thousands of megawatts of power to utilities - a generous proportion of which is for long-term baseload power. At the same time, demand was increasing more slowly than expected as lifestyles and building and appliance designs adapted to the high energy prices and conservation programs of the last decade. In short, after billions of dollars of investment and the good faith efforts of all, California has more than enough capacity to meet the state's current needs."

(5) Pacific Gas & Electric Company Cogeneration and Small Power Production Quarterly Report third quarter 1989.

Clean Tech comments

Wimborne Energy Consultancy

e-mail: wimtalk AT

March 1988, December 1989, March 1990, April 1990

Written at a time when wind power was not regarded as an important energy source. The climate of energy thought has changed a great deal since I first wrote it. I first observed the convection wind system on Rusinga in 1968 when taken there by the late Mr Odhiambo Okite at Christmas.

Last revised 11/03/12

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