Africa Opens Its First Geothermal Energy Research Center for Workforce Development

Africa is set to open its first ever-geothermal energy research centre at the Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology (DeKUT) in Kenya. As interest in the African geothermal market grows, the region is now focused on building a strong workforce to spur exploration and development of the increasingly important source of renewable energy.

The Rift Valley countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have a combined resource potential of more than 15,000 megawatts (MW), according to the US-East Africa Geothermal Partnership (EAGP) — more than current installed electricity capacity for all of East Africa, a region with more than 200 million people. Efforts to exploit geothermal have intensified in recent years. Kenya leads the way with 280 MW of installed capacity to west of its capital city Nairobi.

Due to a lack of local specialized geothermal training, the few experts in the field were forced to attend universities abroad, mostly with the support of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Only a few geothermal training institutions exist across the world. Prominent programs are located mainly in Australia at the Universities of Adelaide and Queensland and in Iceland, where Kenya’s state agency responsible for development of the sector, the Geothermal Development Company (GDC), currently sends its senior staff for training.

This lack of local training has created the need for the Geothermal Research and Training Institute (GeTRI), which will provide scientific and technical leadership for the geothermal sub-sector, according to DeKUT’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Ndirangu Kioni.

“The geothermal industry relies on a spectrum of different professionals with varying technical backgrounds and experiences,” said Kioni.

The institute will offer a wide variety of comprehensive training and research programs, according to Kioni. Experts from around the globe will offer knowledge on subjects ranging from resource discovery, utilization, drilling, engineering and plant design to environmental impacts and business principles. A training curriculum has been drawn up in partnership with UNEP and the GDC.

In early 2015, GeTRI will offer MSc-level courses and will eventually offer PhD programs in the coming years. Kioni expects a huge demand for education due to the level of exploration and drilling activity taking place across the East Africa region.

According to one of the leading geothermal financiers, the African Development Bank(AfDB), current investments in the sub-sector are estimated at around US$100 million and could more than double in the next five years as more countries seek to exploit their resources.

Lead image: Geothermal plant via Shutterstock

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Maina Waruru is a freelance journalist with an interest in science and climate change issues. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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