A state-of-art lidar (laser radar) system at the Australian Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) is being used to perfect the design of what could become the world’s largest wind farm, at Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

The first stage of the project at Lake Turkana will have 365 turbines producing 300 megawatts of power, possibly growing to as much as 2,000 megawatts. Construction is due to begin in June, and energy generation in 2014.

The $775 million project is being built by an international consortium led by the Dutch firm, KP&P Africa, and is the largest single development in Kenya’s history. The first stage alone will make it the largest wind-farm in Sub-Saharan Africa.

John Sutton, of CRC CARE and Curtin University, who developed the sophisticated lidar analytical technology, said that “It’s an absolutely massive project – in renewable energy terms it’s the equivalent of discovering a major oil field. It will supply 20-30 per cent of all Kenya’s power needs, and potentially neighbouring East African countries”.

The Doppler lidar instrument was originally developed to measure wind-shear at airports. The CRC CARE research team acquired the technology to analyse pollution plumes in the atmosphere to help industry to reduce dust and other forms of air contamination in Australia.. They have now adapted it to measure wind fields.

For the Lake Turkana Project, they measured the wind at points every 100 metres across the entire landscape every 10 minutes with precision. The results were used to validate the models being used to design wind farms.