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Kenya to get massive wind farm

A Kenyan firm is planning a 300 MW wind farm which, when operational in 2012, will represent roughly 20% of the electrical capacity of the country.

The 20% figure is a bit deceptive though. Wind farms don’t produce electricity at anything near the nameplate capacity, so the farm will probably represent something more like 10% of Kenya’s output. Still, this is a big jump forward from a single project, and demonstrates the potential of leapfrogging technology in undeveloped areas.

Interestingly, the limiting factor on further development of wind energy in Kenya is the electrical grid:

> The company plans to have a 426 km (265 mile) transmission line linking the site in Loiyangalani to Suswa in southwestern Kenya. From there, it will be fed into the national grid…The 400 kv double circuit line will have the capacity to transmit 1,000 MW but the national grid can currently accommodate only 400 MW more.

> Staubo said his company planned to expand production once the grid could accommodate more power: “We are looking at future development at the site … The entire network needs to be upgraded before you can inject more.”

I know just enough about development in Africa to understand that I shouldn’t make any pronouncements about development in Africa. Instead, here are some scenarios to ponder:

* Africa becomes an incubator for smart grid technology, as countries grapple with how to build a transmission system from the ground up that can accomodate distributed generation and a heavy proportion of renewables.
* Africa becomes an electricity exporter by building massive solar installations in the desert and slinging the electrons to Europe.
* Africa becomes a manufacturing powerhouse when, in a carbon-constrained world, its relatively clean electricity system confers a competitive advantage.

Not saying any of these things will happen, but they’re interesting to consider.

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