Lake Turkana Wind Project – Powering the Nation
The Lake Turkana Wind Project, the largest single wind farm built in Africa & Kenya’s biggest ever private investment, has transformed the country’s energy outlook.
The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project is located in north-western Kenya, near Lake Turkana, a relatively desolate spot that previously had no infrastructure or transmission network. The winds sweeping the area start in the Indian Ocean and are channelled through the “Turkana corridor” created by the Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands. They blow consistently at 11 miles per second, making this an ideal area for situating wind turbines.
The wind farm comprises 365 turbines, each with a capacity of 850kW, and a high voltage substation that has been connected to the Kenyan national grid through an associated transmission line constructed by the Kenyan Government. The project is forecast to reduce carbon emissions by 16 million tons during its 20-year lifespan.
The Wind Farm’s proponent is the LTWP consortium, comprising KP&P Africa BV and Aldwych International as co-developers, Investment Fund for Developing Countries, Vestas Eastern Africa Limited, Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd, KLP Norfund Investments AS and Sandpiper.
Carlo van Wageningen, one of the founding fathers of the project, says: “The success of this unprecedented project is the result of the passion of the whole team, and its dedication to beating the odds. Considered a bunch of dreamers at first, the satisfaction is enormous today, when you see what is standing, where once there was nothing. The transformation is beyond words.”
The project started with an idea, triggered by a Dutch friend of Mr van Wageningen who used to go to Lake Turkana to fish and, being from the Netherlands, immediately noticed the wind and its potential value. Following the fast growth of renewables technology, it became clear that the site was a wind farm developer’s dream: enormous space, low population density, with constant, unidirectional winds, says Mr van Wageningen.
“With Kenya’s total installed capacity of 950 MW at that time, my idea was to build a 50-90 MW wind farm, which would represent up to 10% of the country’s total installed capacity. However, it became clear that given the cost of the required infrastructure, we needed higher volume in order for the project to be viable. 300 MW was judged to be the minimum capacity.”
When asked about the challenges, Mr van Wageningen smiles. “Everything was a challenge. With a project of that size in Africa that had never been done before, with $600 million under private investment never done before, in an area where there is nothing, the challenges are huge.”
Logistics was the first challenge to handle – how to get the equipment to the site. This, together with the need to build everything from scratch, in an area with no houses, no electricity substations, as well as the need to get acceptance from local communities, were the issues that needed to be addressed all at the same time, says Mr van Wageningen. “We had to take the risk of starting the development knowing very well that any of these challenges could make it impossible to move on, at a great cost.”
Winds of change
The company ended up reinforcing 208 km of roads and bridges which made it possible to haul all 365 turbines to the site from the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa. The project is connected to the national grid by the 436km Loiyangalani – Suswa transmission interconnector.
Mr van Wageningen explained that a strong CSR programme was defined and an agreement was reached with the investors to deploy a set percentage of profits as a regular contribution to CSR. Initiatives included the establishment of a ‘Winds of Change Foundation’ to help address health, education, infrastructure and water issues.
As part of its commitment to local communities, the Winds of Change Foundation undertakes sustainable community development projects in the project catchment area. Now that the wind farm is operational, it is expected that LTWP through the foundation will contribute €10 million over the operational life of the wind farm.
Mr van Wageningen says: “The project has awakened a region that before was considered marginalized. The infrastructure we have built and the associated developments have significantly boosted the local economy.”
He points out that it took nine years of hard work for the project to be completed on time and on budget. “The first turbine was installed on 5 March 2016, and the last turbine was erected on 5 March 2017 – 365 turbines were installed in 365 days. We actually finished the project one week ahead of the expected completion time, entirely on budget, which was incredible, given the challenges and the myriad hurdles.”
The wind farm came online on 24 September 2018 when it was connected to the national grid. Africa’s largest wind farm today employs 480 people and generates up to 310.25 MW of electricity. Further outcomes of the project are a high voltage substation that has been connected to the Kenyan national grid through an associated transmission line, new roads and various social and infrastructure facilities for its staff.
The wind farm today provides clean, reliable and low-cost energy to Kenya’s national grid, supplying up to 25% of Kenya’s off-peak and up to 17% of peak demand, thus contributing to Kenya’s economic stability, strengthening the country’s position as a safe and reliable investment destination.
What started as a dream was successfully completed as a result of the hard work, passion and dedication of the founders and their teams. Today, the Lake Turkana Wind Project is a showcase for Africa’s renewable energy transformation, making Kenya lead the way in terms of its focus on, and dedication to, renewable energy.
“We take great satisfaction and pride in having achieved something that at the beginning most people thought was not possible. We have transformed the energy prospects of Kenya, improved the lives of a great many people and set a benchmark in terms of renewable energy in Africa. We can walk with our heads held high,” says Mr van Wageningen.