“At least one previous ARGeo Conference took place in Uganda, hosted by a very active group of geothermal energy advocates there,” they said.
Power Engineers, with headquarters in Hailey, Idaho, has more than 400 MW of efficient, clean new geothermal generation in Mexico, Kenya, Costa Rica, Iceland, the U.S., Indonesia, and the Philippines, according to its Web site.
When the company began working on the Olkaria geothermal site in 2000, very little new geothermal generation had been developed in Kenya and East Africa, Long and Ralph told GEA. “Olkaria 1 had been in operation for nearly 15 years without further generation development, and the binary unit in Ethiopia, at Aluto Langano, was having operation problems.”
“Since our first involvement in Kenya, KenGen has successfully installed three 32-MW high efficiency steam turbines. These units increased the installed generation capacity of Kenya by approximately nine percent and the routinely available baseload by a percentage substantially greater than that,” they said.
In terms of policy support, countries worldwide are increasingly turning to feed-in tariffs as a mechanism to develop geothermal energy. Kenya and Uganda both have tariffs for geothermal energy, though the tariff in Kenya is a price ceiling rather than a minimum price, and final payment per kilowatt-hour is negotiated.
Geoscientists have identified at least 20 sites for high-temperature development in Kenya, and ongoing geothermal projects are expected to provide an additional 1,650 MW in the next six to seven years, according to Paul Ngugi, representing GDC at a GEA event.
GDC was established in 2004 to fast-track geothermal resource development with an ultimate goal of reservoir development to support 5,000 MW of geothermal. The state-owned company conducts up-front exploration and drilling with its own geothermal drilling rigs. GDC assumes a significant portion of the risk associated with geothermal development, and is then able to open up geothermal resources to the private sector for further development.
Power Engineers notes the private sector involvement, which debuted in the Kenya geothermal fleet with Ormat Technologies’ initial binary plant installation at Olkaria 3, is now substantial.
“The IPP evolution in Kenya and other Rift nations is a clear sign of the growing prevalence, in the Rift area, of global interest in supporting power plant finance and operation,” they said.
While efforts thus far in Kenya and Ethiopia are remarkable, much greater potential for extensive geothermal use exists throughout the East African Rift System, and scientists have only barely scratched the surface. Estimates of known potential in the region range between 10,000 and 20,000 MW. The area extends about 6,500 km from the Dead Sea to Mozambique, including much of the geology throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
There has been strong support for geothermal development among African governments.
“In parallel with Kenya, a regional transmission grid is being developed and Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda have active processes underway to increase geothermal potential,” noted Long and Ralph.
And ARGeo’s representative, Zemedkun, notes the need beyond Kenya and Ethiopia is great. Djibouti and Eritrea have no other known indigenous energy resources except potential for geothermal energy, and both nations currently rely 100 percent on imported fuels.
Djibouti has been actively working to develop geothermal prospects and has entered drilling stages, while Rwanda is working aggressively in the Karisimbi area and could soon be ready to start development. Tanzania and Uganda have identified prospect areas, and other countries in the region are still in stages of conducting inventory of hot springs.
Leaders from several African countries and U.S. agency officials were present at the GEA’s International Geothermal Showcase in May 2012 to discuss the work already underway in the region and seek shared answers for the future. A common theme was the need to adopt a regional approach to geothermal energy through synergy of ongoing efforts.
Several U.S. government agencies are involved in aiding U.S. companies to find increased opportunities for contribution to renewable development abroad. Ngugi told GEA event attendees that USTDA aided GDC in its infancy.
“We hold USTDA dearly; they believed in us when we were very young,” Ngugi said.
GDC now works aggressively in the sector, with a plan to drill about 100 wells in the next three years and raise about US$1 billion, generate about 1,400 MW in the next five years, and take this up to about 600 wells and $US2.6 billion in the next 10 years.
Jeff Humber, director of the Africa Infrastructure Program at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), works to connect U.S. companies with opportunities in East Africa.
“The geothermal opportunities that exist in this region are really quite substantial,” he said.
USAID is very supportive of geothermal energy as an answer to challenges in the region, Humber added.
“It’s a win-win opportunity for both American companies as well as East African governments. It’s our goal through various measures to get the knowledge of the U.S. geothermal companies to East Africa.”
In response to interest by U.S. geothermal companies to connect with African governments and develop clean, renewable, alternative sources of energy, USAID and the GEA signed a MOU agreement in June to assist East African countries with capacity building and expanding geothermal markets, while also creating opportunities for U.S. companies to develop or build on relationships, increase exposure, and initiate new business in the region.
“America is a leader in geothermal energy technology, and the utilization of this type of clean energy is relatively un-tapped in Africa. This partnership offers tremendous opportunities for U.S. geothermal companies to become major players in East Africa,” said Michael Curtis, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID.
“This partnership is not just between USAID and GEA, but between America and the people of East Africa. Developing the tremendous, virtually untapped geothermal resources of East Africa will have huge benefit to the region, and U.S. firms have the expertise and experience to help. Together, we can get the job done and bring clean, reliable power to millions of people," said Karl Gawell, GEA Executive Director.
Perhaps this new partnership could help guide the much-needed synergy for energy infrastructure in East Africa, and brighten the dark horizon for that other 75 percent of Africans.
“The Rift nations now have the opportunity to learn that multi-decade lesson very quickly. The Rift area is experiencing an acute case of push and pull in its geothermal resource development. The area has spectacular geothermal resources — heat of staggering quality and extent — and the nations perched above it are acutely strained to supply their growth in load and demand for load,” said the two representatives of Power Engineers. “That is the situation — push and pull — that most sharply stimulates brisk thinking and inspired problem-solving in resource development.”
The fourth African Rift Geothermal Conference will take place this November in Nairobi.