Project C02, Energy Futures

Project Summary

This project explores visions, epistemic mobilities and strategic planning practices related to Kenya’s energy policy by focusing on the development and governance of geothermal infrastructures. The Kenyan energy sector has developed very dynamically in recent years with a shift from hydro and diesel to geothermal and wind energy, and great progress in electrification, thereby making Kenya a renewable energy pioneer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Based on the findings of the first project phase, we assume that relevant impulses and policies of future-making originate in transnational institutional contexts and knowledge communities. Important actors include government representatives, policy specialists, technology experts, and consultants of various geographical and institutional backgrounds who interact and cooperate in framing and envisioning geothermal development in Kenya and elsewhere. The project explores the linkages between technologies, institutions, and these actors, the governance and dynamics of Kenya’s energy sector, and its embeddedness in the wider East African Region. We focus on the transnationally operating communities of practice and explore their knowledge resources and practices, on the geothermal visions and plans produced by them, and on how institutional contexts at various scales encourage and facilitate – or interfere with – these visions, plans, and resulting policies and implementation. Conceptually, the project focuses on the geographies and temporalities involved in future making, strategic (energy) planning, and the cross-scale dynamics in technology and policy development and transfer. Furthermore, the project not only explores how geothermal futures and infrastructures are envisioned, planned, and implemented, but also how geothermal development and infrastructures contribute to socioecological transformations and land-use changes in the Kenyan Rift Valley.

Research Region:Kenya

Keywords: Human Geography, Social and Cultural Anthropology

Key Questions

1) What visions of the future are associated with geothermal development and its direct-use applications? With what rationales and time horizons?

2) How do institutional contexts at various scales encourage and facilitate – or interfere with – such visions and the resulting policies? Which actors are involved as drivers and/or knowledge providers?

3) What are the ideas and approaches to finance and implement geothermal visions and infrastructures? What (international) networks, power relations, epistemologies, and socioeconomic conditions constitute the community of practice of (Kenyan) geothermal experts, and in what ways do they drive the development of “geothermal futures” in Kenya?

4) How and by whom are direct-use applications and the related infrastructures planned, implemented, and financed? Where does the knowledge applied in these processes originate, and by whom and how was it produced and transferred to the Kenyan Rift Valley?

5) What are the anticipated and observed impacts of geothermal development, its direct-use applications and associated rural electrification on local livelihoods, land-use changes, and social-ecological transformation?

6) How does anticipation, planning, and implementation of geothermal development, its direct-use applications and associated rural electrification create or reinforce conflicts over land and over potential benefits?


Qualitative methods (especially expert interviews and ethnography) and survey analysis.

Key Findings from Phase I

Large-scale renewable energy infrastructures in Kenya are mainly driven by Kenya’s Vision 2030, an ambitious plan to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country (Bauriedl and Klagge, 2018, Müller-Mahn et al., 2019). While there are some large wind projects (most prominently the Lake Turkana Wind Park) and plans for a coal-powered plant, the bulk of new energy capacity comes from geothermal development (Greiner and Klagge, 2021, in print). Baringo-Silali is the largest exploration site to date and has moved from preparing ancillary infrastructures and engaging local communities to successful drilling. Geothermal future-making in Baringo-Silali is governed by linkages among various stakeholders ranging from international investors such as the KfW and national government actors, especially the Geothermal Development Cooperation (GDC), to county and community representatives (Klagge et al., 2020, Klagge and Nweke-Eze, 2020).

Geothermal development in northern Kenya takes place in a frontier situation characterized by devolution, new land laws and a weak presence of state security forces. This creates a breeding ground for (inter-ethnic) conflicts over access to land (Greiner, 2020, Greiner et al., 2021), but also conflictual community-investor relations. While the Government of Kenya, KfW, and GDC, as well as private investors have articulated long-term visions regarding sustainability, green energies and economic growth (Klagge, 2021, Nweke-Eze and Kioko, in print), members of affected communities in Baringo have much more concrete goals such as jobs and access to drinking water. Resulting investor-community as well as inter-ethnic conflicts are fuelled by “economies of anticipation”, i.e. expectations of future developments, compensations and benefits.


Bauriedl, S., Klagge, B. 2018. Stromerzeugung aus erneuerbaren Energien in Kenia. Praxis Geographie 48(3), 36-41. Link

Greiner, C. 2020. Negotiating Access to Land and Resources at the Geothermal Frontier in Baringo, Kenya. In: Lind, J., Okenwa, D. and Scoones, I. (Eds.) Land, Investment & Politics: Reconfiguring Africa’s Pastoral Drylands. Woodbridge: James Currey, 101-109.

Greiner, C. 2022. African pastoralism: Plus ça change? From constant herders to social differentiation. In: Greiner, C. van Wolputte, S., Bollig, M. (Eds.) African Futures. Leiden: Brill Publishers. Link

Greiner, C., Klagge, B. 2021. Elektrifizierung und Großprojekte der Stromerzeugung in Kenia. In: Becker, S., Klagge, B. and Naumann, M. (Eds.) Energiegeographie: Aktuelle Konzepte und Herausforderungen. Stuttgart: Ulmer, 289-302. Link

Greiner, C., Vehrs, H.P., Bollig, M. 2021. ‘Land-use and Land-cover Changes in Pastoral Drylands: Long-term Dynamics, Economic Change, and Shifting Socioecological Frontiers in Baringo, Kenya’, Human Ecology. DOI

Greiner, C., Greven, D., Klagge, B. 2021. Roads to change: Livelihoods, land disputes, and anticipation of future developments in rural Kenya. European Journal of Development Research. DOI

Greiner, C., Klagge, B., Grawert, E., Mkutu, K. 2022. 'Future-making and scalar politics in a resource frontier: Energy projects in northern Kenya', PLAAS Working Papers, No. 63. Full Text

Klagge, B. 2022. Geothermie-Großprojekte im ländlich-peripheren Kenia: Chancen und Herausforderungen zwischen Stromerzeugung für den nationalen Markt und regionaler Entwicklung durch direct use. Standort. DOI

Klagge, B. 2021. The Renewable Energy Revolution: Risk, Investor and Financing Structures – with Case Studies from Germany and Kenya. In: Knox-Hayes. J. and Wójcik, D. (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Financial Geography. New York: Routledge, 620-645. Link

Klagge, B., Nweke-Eze, C. 2020. Financing large-scale renewable-energy projects in Kenya: investor types, international connections, and financialization. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 102(1), 61-83. DOI

Klagge, B., Zademach, H.-M. 2018. International Capital Flows, Stock Markets, and Uneven Development: The case of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSEI). Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie / The German Journal for Economic Geography 62(2), 92-107. DOI

Klagge, B., Greiner, C., Greven, D., Nweke-Eze, C. 2020. Cross-scale Linkages of Centralized Electricity Generation: Geothermal Development and Investor-community Relations in Kenya’s Semi-arid North. Politics and Governance, 8(3), 211-222. DOI

Kuiper, G., Greiner, C. 2021. Export horticulture and labour migration in Kenya: Translocality and transiency in a secondary town. Geoforum. DOI

Müller-Mahn, D., Dannenberg, P., Klagge, B. 2019. Das ländliche Afrika im Umbruch: Entwicklungskorridore und die Transformation des Agrarsektors. Geographische Rundschau 71(11), 10-16. Link

Nweke-Eze, C. 2021. Neoliberal Reforms in Sub-Saharan Africa's Electricity Sector: Implementation, Experiences, and Impacts. In: Osabuohien, E.S., Oduntan, E.A., Gershon, O., Onanuga, O. and Ola-David, O. (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Institution Development for Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Growth in Africa. Hershey: IGI Global, 410-430. DOI

Nweke-Eze, C., Kioko, E.M. 2021. 'But we cannot do it all': Investors’ sustainability tensions and strategic selectivity in the development of Geothermal Energy in Kenya. In: Leal Filho, W., Pretorius, R. and de Sousa, L. (Eds.) Sustainable Development in Africa, World Sustainability Series. Cham: Springer. Link

Van Wolputte, S., Greiner, C., Bollig, M. (Eds.) 2022. African Futures. Leiden: Brill Publishers. DOI

Volkert, M. 2022. Electrification and Devolution in Kenya: Opportunities and Challenges. Standort 46, 128–132. DOI

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