Geothermal power could become East Africa?s main energy source

Almost all countries in East Africa are counting on the abundant geothermal resources to reduce their energy bill, reduce emissions and increase available electricity

The Rift Valley in East Africa, is one of the most geologically active areas in the world, with a huge geothermal energy potential, estimated in at least 15,000 MW. Moreover, these estimates must be updated now that geothermal energy is not limited to high-enthalpy resources.

Supported by the United Nations and other international organizations, countries in the region are trying to make the most of this opportunity to extend electrical supplies (the vast majority of the population has no access to electricity) and reduce dependence on oil imports and hydro, which in this area is highly exposed to seasonal variations.

Kenya is Africa’s most advanced country as regards geothermal energy, having already built plants and aiming at achieving between 210 MW and 2,300 MW by 2020. An ambitious goal, considering that the country’s total installed electricity capacity amounted to about 1,300 MW at the end of 2010.

Even more ambitious, in proportion, are the targets set in Rwanda, a country with 10 million inhabitants and an installed electrical power (from all sources) of only 70 MW. The government is planning on building 300 MW of geothermal power by 2017, with the aim of increasing access to electricity to about 50% of the population by virtue of geothermal energy.

Finally Uganda, whose geothermal potential is conservatively estimated in 450 MW, this last month adopted a renewable generation incentive system, specifically aiming at developing geothermal plants.

Other countries that are planning to harness geothermal energy are Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Over the past year, the last three countries completed a resource assessment promoted by the United Nations. The Government of Tanzania seems especially interested in encouraging small-scale geothermal systems for the electrification of rural areas and isolated networks.