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For Large Companies, Kenya Represents Fertile Ground

Nearly half of its population lives in poverty, but a stark rise in education and literacy puts Kenya on the shortlist of nations poised for greater prosperity.

When U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the role renewable energy will play in leading impoverished nations to higher standards of living, he may have had Kenya in mind. And if he didn’t, there are some pretty big private companies that do.

The country already gets a vast amount of its energy from hydropower, and now international corporations like GE, Samsung and Toshiba are looking to implement wind, solar and geothermal energy in an often politically tense region known more for its battles with famine than for its potential for renewables. Here’s a rundown of three recent developments that bode well for Kenya, and perhaps eventually, for all developing nations.

Wind

The country is in the midst of developing the continent’s largest wind farm -- a 300-megawatt (MW) facility near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The 365 turbines are expected to be fully commissioned some time next year, and according to the project developers, their addition could supply up to 17 percent of the nation’s total installed grid-connected power.

The project has secured 150,000 acres, and it is being led by a consortium of Dutch and Kenyan experts and investors.

Geothermal

Kenya is already the continent’s largest source of geothermal energy, producing up to 15 percent of the country’s needs. But some companies are betting that the industry can do a whole lot more.

According to Bloomberg, 19 companies -- including GE and Toshiba -- put in bids to develop eight 100-MW geothermal plants in the northwest part of the country. If these sites are to be developed, it likely wouldn’t happen until the tail end of the decade. The state-owned Geothermal Development Company says the nation has a geothermal potential between 7,000 and 10,000 MW.

Solar

While wind and geothermal represent changes that can come from utility-scale investment, one company is targeting an audience that lives far from the grid. Samsung recently released a solar-powered laptop that is targeted to the African market, among others.

As part of its Built for Africa campaign, the South Korean company released its 10.1-inch Samsung Netbook NC215S in late August. According to the company, the single solar panel attached to its face helps it achieve 14 hours of battery life.

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