Africa’s first grid-connected biogas power plant comes online

The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that Africa’s first grid-connected biogas plant has opened on a commercial farm approximately 76 kilometres from Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. It is capable of generating enough electricity to cultivate its 706 hectares (1,740 acres) of farmland as well as 5,000-6,000 rural homes. Before being used in Kenya the biogas technology had been used in 45 other power plants globally.

Known as the Gorge Farm Energy Park, and located in Naivasha Province, it will produce 2 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy and contribute to a 7,000-tonne reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The plant will also result in the production of around 35,000 tonnes of natural fertiliser by-product which can then be used on the farm and/or sold to other local farmers and will help further reduce emissions by avoiding fertiliser transportation.

The farm itself is owned by Vegpro Group, which is a leading east African export producer and the second largest exporter of roses, but the biogas plant on the farm is owned and managed by an independent power producer known as Biojoule Power. Biojoule Power has entered into a power purchase agreement with Kenya’s national electricity provider, Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC), and Gorge Farm to sell power generated from the plant for $0.10 per kilowatt houw (kWh).

In contrast, diesel-generated power costs $0.38 to produce. Producing the same amount of energy that the new biogas plant is capable of producing would require 5 million litres of diesel fuel annual in addition to the amount of fuel required to transport the diesel inland to the farm from the coastal port of Mombasa.

Sometimes also known as deep green energy, biogas, is considered a valuable source of energy in rural areas. The Gorge Farm Energy Park “plant produces biogas through anaerobic digestion, a process in which crop residue from the farm is digested by micro-organisms. The biogas produced is burned in two engines, producing both electricity and heat in a process called cogeneration.”

This plant represents an important first step for Kenya, the east African region and more generally Africa. The majority of Africa’s population reside in rural areas, use the land for income generation purposes and are not connected to national electricity grids. The use of biogas, and the construction of more biogas independent power producer plants, can provide a potential solution to this challenge. Many experts agree on this.

One such expert is Helen Osiolo, a Policy Analyst at the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis. She believes “the potential for biogas generated electricity in Kenya is significant” adding that it could generate between 29 MW and 131 MW of power that could be added to the Kenyan national electricity grid. One challenge she foresees is that the government might not be willing to pay enough per kWh hour produced.

Another potential challenge to biogas’ expansion is the perception that a substantial amount of raw material is required in order to produce any energy output that is meaningful. However, Tropical Power, a developer of African biogas and solar plants, estimates that if organic materials from only 1 percent of Kenya’s landmass were used in anaerobic biogas plants then it would produce approximately 1,800 MW of electricity which is equivalent to Kenya’s current effective installed national capacity.

The United Nations also promotes the potential that biogas. A 2015 UN report also explored the possibility of generating biogas from human, rather than organic, waste claiming that it “is a potentially major source of energy that could provide electricity for millions of homes while improving sanitary conditions in developing countries.” Almost a billion people worldwide do not have access to toilets and are forced to relieve themselves outside. The UN reports that “if their waste was collected and used to produce biogas, it could generate electricity for 10 million to 18 million households and be worth $200 million to $376 million per year.”