In 2004, a group of Kenyan geophysicists began studying the geothermal potential of the Menengai caldera in the Rift Valley.
Previously, studies by foreign consultants had ranked Menengai below two other sites, Longonot and Arus.
However, the Kenyan modelling showed Menengai had the highest potential of any geothermal site in the country.
In 2008, the Geothermal Development Company (GDC) was created for the purpose of accelerating the pace of geothermal exploration and development in Kenya. It decided to start with scientific exploration of Menengai. Within two years, the best drilling sites had been identified.
Next, GDC had to develop all the infrastructure for deep drilling. The company's infrastructure team built roads through rough terrain, connected electricity, and supplied water.
Of these, water was the biggest challenge. Surface water was not available in the vicinity, so the infrastructure team had to locate aquifers with high yield, drill boreholes and install large storage tanks. Simultaneously, the drilling team was procuring rigs from China. GDC decided to drill its own wells instead of hiring a contractor, which cut the cost of drilling a single well to about US$3 million (Dh11m)rather than $6m with a contractor. This year, the drilling team began on the first well, which struck steam on May 12, after 72 days of drilling. That first well had a potential of 10 megawatts, an unusually high output from a single well.
GDC has now drilled four wells with an estimated output potential of 30MW. The company is in the process of soliciting bids from international power producers for the rights to generate electricity at each well.
Thus far, 19 companies have expressed interest in Menengai. The bidding process should be completed next year after which GDC plans to draw up a "steam sales agreement" with the winning bidders.
By 2017, GDC expects the contracted power plants to be complete, with total generation capacity of 800MW.
If this target is achieved, it would represent a 60 per cent increase in Kenya's total power generation capacity.