There are some 700 million people in Africa without access to electricity. As the continent modernizes, those people will need power. But could African power be a perfect place for leapfrog technology—when a developing society goes straight to the most modern technology without going through the iterations seen in the developed world? A new windfarm in Kenya might indicate yes.
The $870 million Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project, set to begin construction in December, will be the largest wind farm in Africa when it is completed. The project, which will be built in a remote area near the Lake Turkana basin, will use 360 wind turbines to pump out 300 megawatts of power—enough to power tens of thousands of homes and add 30% more energy capacity to Kenya's grid. LWTP, a consortium of Kenyan and Dutch organizations including Anset Africa and KP&P, also plans to install a 266-mile-long transmission line to bring energy from the turbine project to the main grid.
This is a big step for Africa's renewable energy capacity, but there is still a long way to go. There is only one grid-linked solar power project currently operating on the continent (in Rwanda), though there are several under construction. And at least one country in the region—South Africa—relies almost entirely on coal for energy.
But if LTWP is completed on schedule (by 2014) and without any future financing issues, investors may soon come around to the idea that large-scale renewable projects in Africa make sense.