East African Countries Drive Geothermal Development
United Nations climate talks ended last week in South Africa and the
United States and China played chicken on who would take the lead in
stewarding the environment well while also driving economic
development. Quietly, Kenya has signed major deals just this
year that will see the opening of at least three plants that will grow
Kenyaï¿½s geothermal capacity to 514 megawatts (MW) by 2014. By 2030,
Kenya aims for geothermal energy to make up 5000 MW of the total
15,000 MW of power the country will produce to meet growing demand ï¿½
an estimated $16 billion investment. Imagine that, an African
country driving the uptake of clean and renewable energy.
Experts estimate that Kenya has the potential to generate 7,000 MW to
10,000 MW. The country began developing geothermal in the 1980s and
currently produces about 209 MW. In 2008, the country set its
geothermal power goal in the Vision 2030 strategic plan. Since that
time Kenya has aggressively grown geothermal with the 36 MW expansion
of the 48 MW Olkaria III, the construction of the 280 MW Olkaria IV,
and the drilling of the 1,600 MW Menengai field.
Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal reported on December 6, Kenya
is not the only African country developing geothermal energy. Kenya
lies within the East African Rift System that runs 6,500km from
Tunisia to Mozambique. In a recent conversation with Dr. Meseret
Zemedkun of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), she
explained that some countries in the East African region are looking
to complement their current hydropower capacity, while others like
Eritrea and Djibouti are looking for primary renewable energy sources.
 Ethiopia has drilled a pilot 7 MW plant. Eritrea is conducting
detailed exploration. Djibouti is drilling wells, and Uganda and
Rwanda are conducting semi-detailed and detailed exploration.
According to Dr. Zemedkun, ï¿½[African] countries are very keen to
develop their resources.ï¿½ She cited the high availability rate of
geothermal compared to hydropower ï¿½ 90-95 percent versus 50-55
percent. Changes in weather impact the availability of hydropower
whereas geothermal energy is not impacted by changes in weather.
Furthermore, enhanced technology is reducing the unit price of
geothermal energy, increasing its accessibility to African countries.
Dr. Zemedkun is currently driving the African Rift Geothermal Project,
an initiative that brings together several African countries in
working to build their geothermal capacity. It also helps reduce
the risks of exploration through exploration studies, site selection,
and surface exploration. UNEP partners with the World Bank in this
work, leveraging its risk mitigation fund to further the exploration
of geothermal energy.
I am excited about the work Kenya is doing to develop its geothermal
energy capacity. Its leadership has also kickstarted the exploration
of geothermal energy in other countries along the East African Rift
System. Hopefully, the US and China will figure out a way to do their
part and contribute to the preservation of this earth while meeting
the economic needs of their citizens.
Featured image is geothermal well at Menengai Crater by Suileman
 ABN Digital, Mitigating Effects of Climate Change in Africa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-UBR6o2r74&feature=g-user
 New York Times, At Climate Talks A Familiar Standoff Emerges
Between the United States and China: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/08/science/earth/at-climate-talks-a-familiar-standoff-emerges-between-the-united-states-and-china.html?_r=1
 Geothermal Development Company, Investment Highlights: http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=192&Itemid=164
 Vision 2030: http://www.vision2030.go.ke/
 Wall Street Journal, Power out of Africa, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204346104576638553875004940.html
 United Nations Environment Program: http://www.unep.org/
 UNEP African Rift Geothermal Project, Tapping into the Geothermal
Energy to Power the Region beyond Kenya: http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=2653&ArticleID=8847
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