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Rwanda Set To Start Major Geothermal Development

All eyes are zeroed in on East Africa geothermal development these days as various governments unveil capacity goals and project plans. The most recent announcement comes from Rwanda – it is set to start drilling three exploratory wells near the Karisimbi volcano. The $27 million venture is scheduled to commence April 15th and last six weeks, according to local reports. If the testing is successful, the project is expected to have a capacity of up to 10 MW.

Uwera Rutagarama, head of geothermal development at Rwanda’s Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA), told The New Times that the government awarded several contracts to both local and international companies. "The contracts were awarded to the Great Wall Drilling Company, a Chinese firm, the supply of drilling materials will be handled by China Petroleum Development and Technology Corporation (CPTDC), rehabilitation of the road to the drilling site will be undertaken by ERGECO, a local firm, and the water supply to the site and civil works will be done by Yashinoya Ltd, a Kenyan company."

This is good news for global geothermal companies that are vying to break into the Africa market as other countries, such as the U.S., are currently flat. Many U.S. players are beginning to open offices in emerging markets, and industry experts encourage this expansion. Halley Dickey of TAS Energy recently expressed the need to expand at the Power-Gen International Conference, stating that companies who resist the move will miss huge opportunities.

“We need to be outwardly focused. We have tremendous technology and expertise here [in the US] and we should be exporting that technology and expertise globally,” said Dickey. “If you talk to companies active in geothermal, they are spending a lot more energy on global markets like Africa, in the Rift Valley, Indonesia, Philippines.” 

And there is plenty of opportunity. Rwanda’s geothermal potential is thought to be more than 700 MW, according to the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), and Rutagarama says its plan is to generate 300 MW of geothermal capacity by 2017. That potential is separated into four regions – Karisimbi, Gisenyi, Bugarama, and Gisenyi, and Rutagarama says that the Kinigi region is to be explored next year.

Those are lofty goals, especially since exploratory drilling is one of the most expensive phases of geothermal development. So to help countries like Rwanda reach these goals and cut costs, the World Bank has established several initiatives to move the process along. It had previously partnered with Iceland on the “Geothermal Compact” to spur development in Africa’s Rift Valley, which includes Rwanda, and it recently announced its Global Geothermal Development Plan to mobilize $500 million for geothermal expansion in the developing world.  The World Bank says it will gather donors and convene later in 2013 to determine the financing of specific projects.

“Until now, our work has been at the country and regional levels. These efforts are important, and should continue. But a global push is what is needed now. Only a global effort will put geothermal energy in its rightful place — as a primary energy source for many developing countries,” said World Bank Managing Director Sri Mulyani Indrawati in a release. “Only a global effort will pool resources to spread the risk effectively. It will let us learn from each other, from our failures and successes, and apply that learning.”

Lead image: Rwanda flag on brick via Shutterstock

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