More African Countries Embrace Geothermal Power, Receive $37M in Funding

The tiny East African countries of Rwanda, Djibouti and the Union of Comoros have joined the African league of geothermal power producers, in a field still dominated by Kenya after applying and getting funding to commence surface studies and drilling operations from the US $115 Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF) fund, which is administered by the African Union (AU).

The countries, which also seriously suffer energy shortages, have less than 20 percent of their population with access to electricity, according estimates by the World Bank and the AU, despite studies showing that they sat on steam power potential in upwards of 4,000 MW.

Their ability to exploit the potential, however, has been hindered by a lack of funds, making them resort to the GRMF financed by western donor countries and banks.

Alongside Kenya and Ethiopia, the countries have jointly won a US $36.7 million funding for a total of seven different projects at an evaluation meeting convened at AU headquarters in Ethiopia on June 17, and being part of third round of funding applications from the GRMF established in 2012.

Rwanda, through its state Energy Development Corporation Ltd., and Comoros, through state company Bureau Géologique des Comores, received funding for drilling, while Djibouti government corporation L’Office Djiboutien de développement de l’Energie Géothermique won funding for surface studies.

Further applications for funding from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Ethiopia are due for consideration for multiple projects to be implemented by both government-owned agencies and the private sector, in the last quarter of 2016.

Following the approval of the grants, it is expected that the newcomers should start generating power from steam in the next three to four years, with the majority benefitting from Kenya’s 20 years’ experience in geothermal development, as well as from the government of New Zealand, which has offered to avail technical expertise to the newcomers.

“New Zealand will make available its well-developed policy, hard and soft tools, and cutting-edge technology as well as expertise of over 60 years in geothermal energy,” Bruce Shepherd, the country’s envoy to the AU, said during the June 17 meeting.

The country has helped the AU develop a Code of Practice for Geothermal Drilling, which allows for exploration of energy sustainably particularly with regard to effects of climate change

The 11 countries in the East African Rift System — Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Comoros, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, and Zambia — are members of the mitigation fund.

GRMF was established with the aim of reducing barriers to investment in the sector to attract both public and private investment.

The facility is financed by the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation, German bank KfW Entwicklungsbank and UK Department for International Development.

Grants under the GRMF cover costs of infrastructural development, including water, access roads and power. Also included are surface studies, exploration, drilling and well testing.

Despite the huge steam potential in the region’s rift valley system, only 586 MW of steam has been harnessed, with Kenya leading with an installed capacity of 579 MW, followed by Ethiopia with 7.3 MW.

Lead image credit: Lydur Skulason | Flickr

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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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