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Discovery beneath African valley expected to have 'seismic impact' on global energy: 'It is a heavy responsibility'

"We don't know where the country would be had the oil crisis not hastened this process."

"We don't know where the country would be had the oil crisis not hastened this process."

Photo Credit: iStock

Imagine vast plains teeming with wildlife, situated between breathtaking escarpments. Kenya's share of Africa's Great Rift Valley often looks like this and is home to one of the planet's largest animal migrations.

But one treasure lies underground, where superheated water and steam are being harnessed at the perfect temperature and pressure to power Kenya's future with a "seismic impact," according to the Guardian.

By tapping into these geothermal resources, Kenya has become a world leader in renewable energy. KenGen, the country's leading electric power generation company, operates wells and power plants by drawing steam from beneath the valley floor. Kenya sources up to 91% of its electricity from renewables — 47% from geothermal alone, per the Guardian.

And there's potential for much more. KenGen estimates the country could produce up to 10,000 megawatts in capacity from geothermal energy, over five times its current peak energy demand. Per the Guardian, this would help Kenya reach its goal of transitioning fully to renewable power by 2030, aligning with its national commitment to sustainability and clean energy.

Several wells sit within Hell's Gate National Park, a home to wildlife but also the former site of the first attempts at geothermal wells in the 1950s. Those early wells did not yield results, and interest waned, according to the Guardian.

"Geothermal power is clean and poses no harm to the wildlife as the animals have adapted to this system," Gastone Odhiambo, a safety officer, told the news outlet. 

"We don't know where the country would be had the oil crisis not hastened this process," added Peketsa Mangi, KenGen's head of geothermal development. The 1970s global squeeze on dirty-energy fuels refocused attention below ground, Mangi says. With renewed external support, success came in the 1980s, and Kenya never looked back.

For locals working at the power plants, "It is a heavy responsibility to help in generating clean energy that can go for ages," safety officer Gastone Odhiambo told the Guardian. The plants he helps run now illuminate homes across Kenya that lacked electricity just a generation ago — like the one he grew up in. 

"When you understand the process, how your tasks affect the day-to-day running of the economy, you remain humble," he added.

Kenya's commitment is setting an example as Africa calls for global finance reforms enabling greater investment in renewables continent-wide. In the meantime, an extraordinary power source beneath the Great Rift Valley is lighting the way forward.

"When all scientific studies and financial resources are poured into the ground, a well is drilled and it discharges, that is power to the country," Mangi said. "You feel the investments are well used. And such good days are many."

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