In December, the University offered a three-week intensive course on assessing the environmental impact of an industrial project. Most countries have an environmental assessment process: the U.S. was one of the early adopters, creating a system of environmental impact statements in 1969. The specifics – what projects require an assessment and what the assessment must contain – largely depend on local law.
The University stresses teamwork, which seems reasonable in light of its history as the merger of a business school and technical college. There were six teams in my class, with half a dozen students each. We had to develop a project proposal, analyze its technical and financial feasibility, prepare a written report on the project taking into account the local environmental impact law at the project site, and give a presentation describing the project’s pros and cons.
The team I was part of consisted of a student from Iceland, one from Canada, two from Kenya, and two from the United States. We decided to research the feasibility of deploying wellhead generators as an early electrical generation option for the Menengai Crater geothermal field being prepared for development in western Kenya. Menengai is a volcanic caldera with lots of hot, fractured rock beneath the surface and a steady inflow of water that quickly becomes superheated. With a few dozen good wells, it can drive a large power plant – and maybe more than one.
Our group proposed deploying small wellhead generators designed in Iceland to begin generating electricity as soon as possible – potentially years before a larger plant can be completed. The larger plant is still worthwhile, because it will provide economies of scale that can’t be achieved by smaller plants. When it’s ready, the smaller turbines can be redeployed to the next development field while a larger plant there is under construction, and so on.
With a growing population and a booming economy, Kenya needs electricity. Like Iceland, Kenya lies atop a rift in the Earth’s crust – someday the eastern part of Africa will split off, forming a massive new island and a new sea separating it from the rest of the continent. For now, there’s a vast supply of molten rock close to the surface, and with so much geothermal energy at hand it makes sense for Kenya to generate power locally, rather than buying oil overseas.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the specifics of the project, but it was fascinating stuff and typical of the sort of thing we get to do here. I’ve very much enjoyed my first semester here, and can’t wait for more!