While there has been significant steps taken by Africa to utilise its wind energy resources, the Global Wind Council has reported that only three African countries presently have installed wind power capacity of up to 1 gigawatt (GW), and the total current installed capacity is only about 6.5 GW. The World Bank Group reports that Africa is presently only using 0.01 percent of its wind energy resources. Furthermore, wind-based electricity in Africa currently only accounts for less than 1 percent of global installed wind capacity.
The four main reasons that account for this underutilisation of wind energy in African countries include:
- The areas with enough wind resources are located in remote rural areas which have no infrastructure such as connection to the transmission grids, roads and water supply;
- Wind energy developers face challenges when it comes to procuring land;
- Managing complex community relationships has been a challenge for foreign developers; and
- Environmental concerns associated with wind farms especially in relation to protection of birds and the production of aerodynamic noise.
Despite these challenges, Kenya has managed an installed wind capacity of 435.1 MW, which contributes to 15-20 percent of the country’s on grid energy generation. Two of the biggest wind projects in Kenya, Lake Turkana Wind Project (LTWP) and Kipeto Wind Project, where ALN Kenya represented the sponsors of these projects, have successfully overcome the four challenges facing wind energy projects in Kenya as follows:
- Kipeto constructed a 17km, 220 kV high voltage Transmission Line linking the wind farm to the national grid at Isinya. The Transmission Line was subsequently transferred to KETRACO, the state-owned enterprise tasked with constructing and operating high voltage transmission lines. On the other hand, in relation to the LTWP Project, KETRACO constructed the 430km, 400 kV double circuit line from Loiyangalani to Suswa.
Further, both projects had to develop road infrastructure, water supply and housing to ensure their successful construction and operation.
- In relation to land, the LTWP Project was granted a long-term lease from the Marsabit County whilst the Kipeto Project entered into over 60 long-term leases and easements with private land owners.
- Additionally, with respect to managing complex community relations, LTWP has established the Winds of Change (WoC) programme through which it undertakes sustainable community development projects to enhance their access to education, health and water. Furthermore, LTWP is the largest private employer in Marsabit County. On the other hand, Kipeto has committed to creating a Community Trust, which aims to execute community projects in the areas of Education, Health, Water and Sanitation (WASH) and Sustainable Livelihood. Furthermore, Kipeto refurbished the Olyankalani Clinic, which serves more than 5,000 residents in Kipeto, Kilonito, lldamat and Oldonyo Sidai areas.
- To address environmental concerns associated with wind farms, Kipeto has come up with a unique biodiversity plan to offset the potential impacts of the turbines on birds. Less than 15km from where the site is located, is the home of two vulture species which the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified as critically endangered. To protect them, Kipeto’s biodiversity plan includes both on-site mitigation measures, which include observer-led shut-down-on-demand (SDOD) of turbines. It also has off-site raptor conservation programmes which focus primarily on raising awareness for the community in a bid to decrease human-wildlife conflicts.
- Finally, wind farms in the country are required to comply with environmental setback requirements, which these projects duly complied with. Such requirements include having specific distance restrictions and buffer zones from the turbines to residential areas. These guidelines aim to mitigate potential concerns and negative impacts on the communities living close to the wind farms.
In conclusion, it is crucial for African countries to address these challenges in order to ensure the continent’s successful investment in wind energy and facilitate the path of combating climate change.