Geothermal Electricity Development Set for Africa’s Rift Valley

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have announced the completion of project testing advanced seismic and drilling techniques in Kenya that has revealed a number of promising geothermal prospects. The three-year US $1 million project used techniques known as Micro Seismic and Magneto Telluric surveys and studies for identifying promising new drilling sites at locations including Olkaria, Naivasha which is around one hour’s drive from Nairobi.

Exceeding all expectations, wells able to generate 4-5 megawatts (MW), and one of 8 MW, have been discovered using the new technology. The results have paved the way for an international effort in 2009 to expand geothermal energy up and down the Rift, which runs from Mozambique in the South to Djibouti in the North. The Africa Rift Valley Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) backed with close to US $18 million of funding and involving UNEP and the World Bank will now underwrite the risks of drilling in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, set to commence in early 2009.

“The work in the Rift Valley is demonstrating that geothermal is not only technologically viable but cost effective for countries in Africa where there an overall potential of at least 7000 MW,” said Monique Barbut, CEO and chair of the GEF.

Funded by the GEF and involving UNEP and the Kenyan power company KenGen, the project, could also transform the prospects and costs for geothermal elsewhere in the world.  Kenya has set itself a goal of generating 1200MW from geothermal by 2015.

“There are least 4000 MW of electricity ready for harvesting along the Rift. It is time to take this technology off the back burner in order to power livelihoods, fuel development and reduce dependence on polluting and unpredictable fossil fuels,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.


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