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Geothermal Industry in Uganda Reaching Out to Developed Markets

U.S. geothermal companies are beginning to see East Africa as an area for industry activity that is fruitful in almost every sense: enormous geothermal resource potential, areas in need of significant energy infrastructure development, and increased demand for U.S. expertise at the local level.

See “U.S.-East Africa Collaboration: From Start-Up to Top-Gear in the Geothermal Industry” for more on U.S. expert perspectives on East Africa as a whole, available here (PDF download) and here. 

While hurdles remain, the industry in Uganda is pushing forward.  “The country counts about 26 scientists and engineers in geothermal energy technology,” Vincent Kato, Project Coordinator of Geothermal Project in Uganda told GEA.

Katwe Geothermal Power Project Limited is “the pioneer Geothermal Project in Uganda,” notes Kenneth G. Semafumu, Managing Director for the company. It has not been an easy task, but the project is under consideration for a power purchase agreement (PPA) – meaning the Government of Uganda has signed an MOU with the Katwe Geothermal Power Project Ltd company and its project developer as a precursor to signing the PPA.

“I have to say that my experience in getting my project off the ground has given me a good sense of a deeper understanding of the sector in the Region as a whole,” Semafumu told GEA.   “First of all development of Geothermal in East Africa is still a very much a work in progress at best.  All the challenges you can imagine in a new initiative are exactly what we here have to deal with on a very regular basis, starting from the formulation of a good policy to develop geothermal all the way to the actual implementation of the projects.” 

Major challenges have included lack of adequate funding to complete the initial ground and surface works and feasibility studies; as well as lack of industry skilled manpower or experienced geothermal personnel.  Semafumu says there is also a “lack of willingness to try out newer sources of energy.”  The industry needs “good training programs from developed markets to share real life experiences in the industry, among others things,” he added.

Aside from Katwe, other areas that have been studied are Buranga and Kibiro, while detailed surface studies are beginning in Pangimur.  The Government of Uganda has committed funds to develop geothermal resources in these areas under the Uganda Geothermal Resources Development Project implemented by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development through the Department of Geological Survey and Mines, and supports exploration activities such as gravity, magnetics, geochemistry and geological mapping.

“The Project Team has applied airborne magnetic data to identify low magnetic signatures interpreted to indicate geothermal areas in Kibiro and Panyimur,” said Kato. 

“The Department has trained extensively in Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, and Kenya,” he added. 

Along with Katwe, Kato tells GEA the other private companies currently licensed to conduct geothermal exploration are Cozumel (U) lTD, Gids Consult (U) ltd, Morberge Finance Ltd, Clean Source Energy Ltd, Pawakom U lTD, Ascot Associates U LTD.

U.S. Companies can Join the Rift Rush

Semafumu says, “U.S. Companies can take advantage of the current lack of creative financing in funding geothermal projects, the lack of expert skills in geothermal and also going into development partnerships with East African Regional prospective developers and concession license holders, but if this is to make meaningful headway the structuring must be done right from the beginning of the relationship, whatever the relationship.” 

Kato agrees there is a role for U.S. companies.  “Our next plan of action is to use Magneto Terrulic (MT) and Transient Electrco Magnetic (TEM) Method to map these four highly ranked geothermal prospects and identify drill targets.  But we do not have [this] equipment in Uganda.  Next come out with a geothermal policy, act and regulation.” 

“The U.S. can help us with this technology of MT and also help us in drafting a geothermal policy, act and regulation. Technology transfer can be with training Ugandans both locally and in the US,” he said.  

The Government is working on a white paper for the Geothermal Act and policy, as currently geothermal exploration as regulated under the Mining Act (2003) has not been conducive with investors.  “We have [gotten] contributions/recommendations from African Union Commission and USAID,” according to Kato.

Uganda is a focus area of the US-East Africa Geothermal Partnership between the Geothermal Energy Association and USAID (U.S. Agency International Development).  Members of the GEA are actively involved in East Africa and met on Tuesday, February 26 following the GEA’s State of the Geothermal Energy Industry Briefing to update on activities in the region. 

This article was originally published in the GEA Geothermal Energy Weekly newsletter and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Uganda map via Shutterstock

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Leslie is located in Washington DC at the Office of the Geothermal Energy Association and serves on the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo committee.


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