A data center run entirely on geothermal energy will be built in Kenya as part of a $1 billion investment by Microsoft and Dubai-based AI firm G42.

The companies and the Kenyan government have signed a letter of intent confirming the investment, which will comprise a number of measures designed to boost Kenya’s digital economy.

Olkaria's geothermal power plants, which will supply Microsoft's new data center – @IRENAIMAGES/Flickr

Microsoft plans geothermal data center for Kenya

One of these is the construction of a data center campus in Olkaria, south west Kenya. It is hoped this will be up and running in the next two years and have an initial capacity of 100MW. This could eventually rise to 1GW, the companies said.

The data center will be powered by geothermal energy using heat naturally stored under the earth's crust. The Olkaria region has abundant geothermal resources, and Kenya’s state-owned energy provider, Kenya Electricity Generating Company, operates four geothermal power plants in the region, with installed capacity of over 700MW.

The data center will also feature “state-of-the-art water conservation technology,” Microsoft said, but did not go into further details of how this will work.

Microsoft is also launching an East Africa cloud region to “provide customers access to scalable, secure, high-speed cloud and AI services to accelerate cloud adoption and the digital transformation of businesses, customers, and partners across Kenya and East Africa.” This will be operational within the next two years.

The letter of intent was signed during Kenyan president Dr. William Samoei’s visit to the US this week.

President Ruto said: “This partnership is bigger than technology itself. It is about coming together of three countries with a common vision of a nation empowered by technology, where every citizen has the opportunity to thrive in the global digital landscape. It’s about building a future where Kenya flourishes as a digital leader.”

Boosting Kenya's Internet connectivity

Microsoft and G42 will also work with Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Digital Economy to boost Internet connectivity across the country. G42 and its UAE ecosystem partners will utilize their resources to support Kenya’s development of international and domestic marine and terrestrial fiber cable infrastructure, while Microsoft will continue to expand its work to bring last-mile wireless Internet access to 20 million people in Kenya and 50 million people across East Africa by the end of 2025.

“This partnership between two companies and three countries highlights a real opportunity to bring digital technology to the Global South in a safe and secure manner,” said Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft. “This represents the single largest and broadest digital investment in Kenya’s history and reflects our confidence in the country, the government, its people, and the future of East Africa.”

Peng Xiao, G42 CEO, added: “In partnership with Microsoft, we are excited to work with the Kenyan government to usher in a transformative era for the digital ecosystem in Kenya and the region.

“By establishing a green data center and developing AI tailored to the local culture, G42 is committed to fostering sustainable technological growth. This initiative will empower the Kenyan government and communities with robust, secure cloud services and AI capabilities, providing the foundation for a thriving digital economy across the region.”

The companies will also support the development of an English/Swahili AI model and related AI services, as well as financing digital skills programs for Kenyans.

Microsoft announced a $1.5 billion investment in G42 last month. The companies pledged to work together to bring more digital and AI services to customers in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.

G42 announced plans for a 100MW geothermal-powered data center campus in Keyna - expandable to 1GW - in partnership with local operator EcoCloud in March.

EcoCloud broke ground on its own 'Project Eagle' geothermal-powered data center at the KenGen Green Energy Park in Olkaria last year. Sudlows Consulting and X2X Group were partnering as lead consultants for the project. Phase one will reportedly have 24MW of IT capacity over eight 3MW data halls, each containing between 300 and 500 racks.

On LinkedIn, EcoCloud said: "We are thrilled to announce a groundbreaking partnership with G42 and Microsoft, as we embark on a $1 billion comprehensive digital ecosystem initiative for Kenya."