Geothermal Energy in AfricaAfrica leads the world in annual population growth, but unfortunately produces the least amount of electricity of any continent. To mitigate this issue while being mindful of the continent’s vulnerability to climate change, African leaders are working to exploit natural energy sources. Recent efforts have begun to focus on establishing plants for geothermal energy in Africa. This involves harnessing energy from the Earth’s heat by digging underground. The east coast of Africa, home of the East African Rift System (EARS), presents a viable location for achieving this endeavor due to its geographical properties: this 6,500-kilometer stretch of progressive breakage in the Earth has constantly shifting plate tectonics that generate a large, renewable source of energy. Nations worldwide are coming together to help develop strong geothermal energy systems in Africa, with Iceland leading the way.

The Need for Electricity Access in Africa

Electricity access plays a significant role in lowering poverty in Africa. A study conducted by The World Bank found that affordable electrification can raise average household income by increasing farming and manufacturing production during off-seasons, as well as helping businesses create efficient services for production and expansion. Expanding electrification encourages economic investment, increases GDP per capita and creates jobs. For instance, when South Africa enacted an electric grid roll-out to poorer communities, the country experienced a 40%-53% boost in business activities due to heightened electricity access. Overall, generating electricity in impoverished areas will enhance economic capabilities and increase sustainability.

Potential for Geothermal Energy in Africa

The EARS is located in northern Syria and runs south to Mozambique. Countries along this rift include Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Eritrea and Uganda. These countries would benefit immensely from the rift’s geothermal energy since, depending on the country, only 35%-75% of the population had reliable electricity in 2018. In fact, initiatives like the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility project were designed to address this exact disparity using geothermal energy. The project’s goal is to gain access to untapped geothermal energy for these countries along the rift. The United Nations Environment Programme pledged $4.75 million for this official start-up in 2015. The project has had success so far in networking with other countries and attracting investors for financial support.

Geothermal energy in Africa is necessary to supplement the general lack of electricity. It is also essential to shift away from the other, less sustainable power sources currently in use. Coal is one of the most environmentally detrimental types of fuel, for example. Despite this fact, South Africa relies on coal-burning as its primary energy source; only 8.8% of the country’s electric needs are fulfilled by renewable energy. Coal-burning and other non-renewable techniques endanger Africa’s people and climate by polluting the air with various heavy metals.

Iceland Empowering Africa

Iceland, however, is a pioneer in geothermal energy: the country’s electricity obtains its power almost entirely by renewable resources. The country is currently advocating the creation of geothermal energy in Africa through several projects.

  1. Geothermal Training Programme (GTP): In collaboration with the United Nations, this six-month annual postgraduate training program teaches individuals from developing countries about geothermal construction and exploration. Between 1976 and 2016, about 39% of graduates originated from African countries. This demonstrates the impact of the GTP in fostering geothermal potential through the next generation of innovators.
  2. African Women Energy Entrepreneurs Framework: With a focus on addressing the barriers that hinder women as entrepreneurs in business, this project was launched in 2017 to support innovative environmental solutions in Africa and promote gender equality within the energy sector. Women are trained in sustainable energy technologies and management in order to create renewable energy policies and partnerships.
  3. Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence (AGCE): Currently in the preliminary stages with help from Iceland and other partner countries, the AGCE aims to expand geothermal research and training. Its goal is to produce geothermal scientists, engineers and technicians to ensure geothermal expansion in Africa for years to come. Governments of multiple African countries are committed to creating this center in order to achieve their climate change and sustainability goals.

Iceland is also a member of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The country is commended for its work in Africa. The UNEP Energy Programme Manager Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun stated, “Iceland has been a steadfast and important partner to UNEP in bringing geothermal expertise to East Africa.” Beyond fostering geothermal energy in Africa, Iceland’s financial contributions help support the UNEP’s other projects and overall mission. Iceland continues to be a world leader in demonstrating the significance of renewable energy. The country accomplishes this goal by addressing Africa’s present and building for its future.

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

Geothermal Energy in KenyaThe use of geothermal energy, or heat contained in rocks and fluids beneath the Earth’s surface, is expanding around the globe. Geothermal energy can generate a continuous supply of heat to power homes and office buildings. It can produce just one-sixth of the CO2 emissions produced in a natural gas plant. Today, geothermal energy in Kenya has emerged as a sustainable power source and contributed to poverty-reduction throughout East Africa.

The Prime Location

To access geothermal energy, production teams dig wells deep into reservoirs of steam and hot water. The method of access limits geothermal energy plants to locations along tectonic plates. For this reason, some have called geothermal energy “the most location-specific energy source” in the world. With an estimated geothermal potential of 10,000 megawatts, the Great Rift Valley in Kenya holds exceptional promise for clean-energy development. The Rift spans nearly 4,000 miles, extending north into Lebanon and south into Mozambique. Situated in the middle of the fault line, Kenya is in a position to harness vast stores of underground energy.

The first geothermal site opened here in 1984, in the region of Olkaria (about 150 miles from the nation’s capital, Nairobi). At the moment, Kenya is working to expand its 23 sites, only four of which contain deep wells. While geothermal power plants in Olkaria maintain a generation capacity of around 700 megawatts and can power nearby major cities, geologists hope to double their impact by 2025.

On Track to a Sustainable Future

Geothermal energy in Kenya remains vital to ensuring a sustainable future nationwide. Unlike natural gas or even solar power, geothermal energy is safe from climatic hazards. In addition, it is available year-round and is relatively low-cost after drilling. Accounting for half the power in Kenya on some days, it has alleviated the national energy shortage. Moreover, it helps provide 75% of Kenyans with access to electricity. This is a significant increase from 56% in 2016.

Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) recognizes the need to implement geothermal energy in sustainability efforts. According to Cyrus Karingithi, Head of Resource Development at KenGen, “We are too dependent on hydropower and this poses a real problem with the repetition of droughts.” Two-thirds of the power in Kenya came from dams in 2010. With the rise of geothermal energy, innovative companies like KenGen have reduced that number to less than 50% and are aiming for 28% by 2024. To achieve their goal, geologists will continue to identify new drilling areas along the fault line.

Economic Growth

Harvesting geothermal energy in Kenya provides environmental solutions, and it also stimulates economic growth. As geothermal plants create jobs and power Kenyan businesses, these operations can wield a direct influence on the fight against poverty. For instance, Oserian is one of the leading flower exporters in Kenya. Oserian relies on geothermal energy to heat greenhouses and sell 380 million flower stems each year. In addition, the company can grow new rose varieties with a 24-hour heating supply. The same geothermal plant generates power for 300,000 other small or medium-sized businesses in the area. With a fast-growing economy, Kenya is already moving toward industrialization and modernization. The nation hopes to be an upper-middle-income country within the next decade. Officials remain optimistic that geothermal energy can power burgeoning industries throughout the country.

Leading the Way

Kenya is the leading producer of geothermal energy on the African continent and eighth in the world. The nation has helped set a valuable precedent for building green infrastructure and implementing sustainable poverty-reduction efforts. Additionally, Kenya will soon be in a position to offer other countries its geothermal equipment and expertise. KenGen intends to construct some of the first geothermal plants in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia. Furthermore, the company has scheduled geoscientific investigations in Rwanda and the Comoros Islands. KenGen has partnered with the Kenyan government, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the World Bank and United Nations Development Programme to garner support for resource development.

Now more than ever, geothermal energy in Kenya is a promising alternative power source. Though not without its challenges, energy drawn from inside the earth promotes numerous financial and environmental advancements. In the end, geothermal energy can help Kenyans propel themselves and their neighbors down a sustainable path to economic stability.

Katie Painter

Photo: Flickr