Interview with Dr Gathuru Mburu

by Dr. Marit Brommer, 26. June 2024

Gathuru can you introduce yourself and tell us something about your background?

I am Kenyan, and a mechanical engineer by training. I studied in Kenya and in Aberdeen, UK.  Throughout my career I have worked and lived in many countries including Tanzania and Belgium. My international career began in the mining business working for a Swedish company, where I grew the mining business to include water and geothermal. Due to the Swedish focus on heating and cooling their homes with geothermal I became very interested in the equipment and applications of this sector. I was appointed global marketing manager based in Houston, USA, and lived there for a few years as well.

In 2012 I moved back to Kenya and founded the consultancy firm Kipya Africa, focusing on mining, water and geothermal advisory services. A few years ago, I was appointed in the Board of Directors of the Geothermal Association of Kenya.

What activities in the geothermal space is the Geothermal Association of Kenya (GAK) involved in?

The  GAK is a membership-based organisation lobbying to ensure Kenya has the best conditions to develop our geothermal resources. We have private companies, public institutions, national and international individual members and we come together to promote geothermal energy and its utilisation. The Association is headquartered in Naivasha, well known for the famous Olkaria fields. GAK is led by the Chairperson and the purpose is to be the pinnacle geothermal professionals body in Kenya, driving investment, ensuring the right fiscal instruments are in place and looking after policy initiatives to boost geothermal development in Kenya and the region. The two key players, KenGen (Kenya Electricity Generating Company) and GDC (Geothermal Development Company) are our key players, and as we look to joining the 1 GWe club, the Association is make sure all parties are invited to the table. The association is also running training, as we are convinced knowledge and building our local talents is important. Kenya is leading in the Africa geothermal space, so we receive many enquiries, for support fromother regional countries. We have over 400 members in our association and we are well aware of the fact that our knowledge and experience is giving us advantage.

What is the KGC? What is the history of the event? And can you share some highlights?

The KGC is a congress that is hosted by GAK. The KGC has numerous partners, such as the IGA who is key to the KGC. The first Kenyan congress was promotedone patron, in 2012, and the GAK realised that hosting a congress does require a lot of resources. In  2022, the GAK hosted the second geothermal congress which was a huge success. And now its time to take it to the next level. We want people to realise that Kenya is focussed on its industrial growth, that we take renewables and green, clean energy seriously as a source of sustainable power. At the same time, we are looking forward to attracting more people into our sector and unlocking investment in our green energy projects in Kenya for enhanced base load capacity and other direct uses.

The KGC starts on July 15th 2024 with training courses. Between 16th and 18th July we will have the actual congress, with opening ceremony and technical sessions, followed by field trips to 21st of July. We will have social events such as the cocktail evening and the gala dinner and we are excited to welcome the associated Geothermal Awards Chief Guest, the Deputy President of Kenya, Hon. Rigathi Gachagua. We seek to recognise and award the key individuals and institutions who started the geothermal journey in Kenya, who have truly contributed to Kenya´s geothermal successes. Also awards will be given to the best technical presentations.

Highlights? Well let me give you a few pointers: we expect the President of Kenya His Excellency Dr. William Ruto to formally open our congress on July 16th. We have an exhibition space featuring top companies such as Toshiba and Baker Hughes. We have 100 papers submitted enabling us to select the best quality papers to be presented at the congress, We have B2B meetings, jointly with the Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility team, who will formally announce the opening of the next funding round, and we have superb training courses on the first day of the congress including drilling technologies and developing hydrogen from geothermal.  Last but not least, our fieldtrips will offer you great learning experience, see the fascinating geothermal sites yourself and engage with the instructors and participants.

Why is this event so important for Kenya?

The government of Kenya is committed to achieving 100% renewable energy whereas today it stands at about 93%. We need a new wave of the right level of investment. Geothermal is pivotal for Kenya as it will be with this energythat will help close the gap to reach the 100% but will also help Kenya to become an large industrial energy producer, including potential  green hydrogen produced by geothermal.

My hope is that the participants will deepen the relationship with the Kenyan players and that we will have a broad international audience coming together. Kenya realises that in order to achieve our ambitious goals and close the gap, we cannot do it alone, we need partners. Therefore the GAK and the KGC is delighted with the IGA partnership  as our second big ambition is to bid for the World Geothermal Congress 2029: in Kenya. And we know to fulfil that ambition, we need to start early, to have a plan, and to showcase our technical and relationship capabilities.

Dr Gathuru thank you so much, this is really insightful. Now I have one Bonus question! If you had 10 million $ to spend on Geothermal: what would you do?

Dr Marit this is a good amount to start with, let me break it up in 10 points:

10 things

  1. Part of that money, I’d like to spend to increase the installed capacity including new geothermal plants.
  2. Part of that money, I’d like to spend to diversify and go big on hydrogen, and the use of geothermal in industry and agriculture.
  3. I’d also spend it on technology advancement, see how and what we can finance through R&D and enhance the efficiency of our power plants.
  4. I’d take a look at local communtiies and support their economic development and create social impact.
  5. I would fund R&D on understanding the environmental benefits of geothermal.
  6. And, I would support the strengthening of the policy and fiscal regime.
  7. Part of the funds I’d use to increase the number of international players by being out there, and explaining to the world what we do and how they can take part in the growth of our geothermal sector.
  8. Then I would really want to enhance the local professionalism, our own human capacity, seek further participation of the public and private partners, and elevate where we are to an international global level.
  9. And then, I would invest in nurturing and maturing Kenyan expertise, the technology keeps changing but my dream is that our technical staff can work in any geothermal field worldwide, and for that we need to build the hard technical skills but also the soft skills such as communication and negotiation.
  10. Lastly, I would say thank you for the 10 million $ it’s a great start, but I need some more funds to do all the above!