Day 24 – Highway to Hell(‘s Gate)
To be clear: our day was not hell. It was actually pretty good. Our destination was called Hell’s Gate and we had an amazing industry visit. But now from the beginning!
The day started to the sweet sound of our alarms at 6:20 am, so we could meet at 8 o’clock on campus with the UoN girls, our driver and his matatu (a minibus). With loud music for our tired ears, we made our way to Hell’s Gate National Park where KenGen operate a geothermal powerplant.
Castor meets us at the park gate and takes us straight to our first stop of the tour: one of the many geothermal wells. These are used to pump the hot steam from 2000 m under the surface. Just a few steps to the side, we could see some of the pipes which sum up to 27 km across the whole area.
At the main plant, Moses, a mechanical engineer, met us to show us around. Over the constant humming of the running plant, he gave his best to explain the turbines (driven by the steam for energy generation) and the valves (to control the mass flow rate). Handling hot steam is more expensive than transporting colder water, so it goes through condensers and cooling towers before it is pumped back into the ground at about 20°C. This conveniently also reduces the risk of an eruption of the volcano Mt. Longonot nearby.
Afterwards, we were introduced to Margret, the mechanical engineer from another plant, for an extensive question round. One of the biggest problems in a geothermal plant is the scaling of the pipes inside due to the minerals in the steam, especially when the latter interacts with oxygen. This can be removed mechanically or chemically. Margret also explained to us that it is very possible to be the only woman in the engineering team and still thrive – because the engineer matters, not their gender. She gave us confidence in where we are going with our careers. With new industry contacts and even promises for further discussions about possible attachments for the UoN girls, we left the pleasantly cool building.
After a few group pictures in the burning sun, we made our way back to Nairobi, but we drove through the park to the other gate!! It was particularly nice for me to recognise the places from my first trip there last Sunday, now with even more zebras to spot. A very cute warthog family crossing the road bid us farewell.
Completely satisfied (and exhausted!) with our visit, we collapsed on our sofa. Again, thank you for having us and your endless patience with all our questions.