HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview Ralph K.B. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, Technical Director, Sustnersol, Uganda

Exclusive interview Ralph K.B. Nyakabwa-Atwoki, Technical Director, Sustnersol, Uganda

Ralph_K.B._Nyakabwa-Atwoki2There is a strong focus on geothermal at the upcoming EAPIC and Mr Nyakabwa-Atwoki is one of the panellists during the geothermal track discussing: “Financial De Risking – How Improving Access to Equity and Other Funding Sources Plays a Catalytic Role in Geothermal Energy Development”.

Let’s start with some background on Sustenersol and your role there?
The principals of Sustenersol Uganda Limited are involved in ‘Combining the Energy of Human Hope With a New Greener Economy’ and committed to implementing and providing clean, competitive and high quality energy options that will contribute  to sustainable development, community empowerment and overall improvement of human and environmental conditions across Africa. This is being done in the field of Biofuels, small hydro power and geothermal energy development through specific project vehicles (SPVs).

To this end, Sustenersol Uganda Limited is one of the SPVs and an independent producer – limited liability company registered in Uganda on April 14th, 2015 and charged with the development of the small and min hydropower and geothermal power resources.

My specific role is coordinating and managing the development of electricity generating plants using renewable energy’s small and min hydropower and geothermal power resources.

A sister company responsible for handling biofuel production is the African Power Initiative Limited (API). The API aims to provide a clean, competitive and high quality energy option that will contribute to sustainable development, community empowerment and the overall improvement of human and environmental conditions across Africa.

Any specific projects you are involved in currently that you are particularly excited about?
The company is currently carrying out a prefeasibility study for developing a min hydropower station on Aringa River in Lamwo District in Northern Region of Uganda and a geothermal power plant in Nebbi District in the same region. These two are exciting projects because they are located in districts with low electric energy penetration and will bring employment in their locations.

What are the different proposed models for developing geothermal energy?
There several different proposed models for development of geothermal energy (GE) with those in common practice employed being:
•    GE development using the National Resources (Government) for a complete cycle i.e. from exploration to construction, commissioning and operation,
•    GE development using the National Resources (Government) in combination with grants or finances from regional, bilateral, multilateral Agencies (World Bank, and other Direct Financing Institutions, etc.)
•    GE development using the National Resources (Government) up to drilling and production of and proving steam quality and quantity then through competitive bidding sale steam to independent power utilities for development,
•    Joint Ventures and Private – Public – Partnerships,
•    Simply grant the geothermal sites concessions to interested local or international developers, and
•    The common Build Operate and Transfer and its derivatives especially the innovative one of Finance, Build operate and Transfer.

Are there success stories that East Africa should be looking at to copy to implement?
Yes, there successful stories for East Africa developers to copy in order to develop their geothermal resources:
•    The commonly referred to as the ‘Kenyan Model’ GE development using the National Resources (Government) for a complete cycle i.e. from exploration to construction, commissioning and operation, and its modifications as outlined bullets two and three above’
•    Simply granting the geothermal sites concessions to interested local or international developers has worked miracles for many countries’ geothermal development programmes especially those countries with good polices and regulatory framework regimes. Ormat’s geothermal plants in Kenya and elsewhere are good examples.

What are the main challenges for the region to develop its geothermal resources?
The main challenges facing the development of regional geothermal resources are three:
•    The High Upfront Exploration Costs And Associated Risks,
•    Lack of holist enabling Geothermal Policies, Laws and institutional frameworks, and
•    Low Local Content and uneven distributed highly qualified and experienced Human Resource.

Simply put, the combination of the three above is solely responsible for “most of the countries in the East African Rift System (EARS) have also been lacking the appropriate investment and institutional settings to fast track geothermal development (Wabunoha, 2014)”. (1)

The first challenge above has been greatly reduced by the creation of the Africa Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGEO) Risk Mitigation Funds (GRMF). (2) This is a Grant that supports geothermal surface surveys and drilling programmes. For example, the cumulative GRMF financial support for all qualified applications of the 3rd AR round amounts to approximately USD 36.7 million; as seen in Table 1, below.

Table 1: Depicting recipients of ARGEO Mitigation Funds for geothermal development

No             Name of Bidder                        Country of Bidder                  Project Name         Activity          
1 Cluff Geothermal Ltd Ethiopia Fantale Drilling Programme
2 L’Office Djiboutien de development de l’Energie Geothermique (ODDEG) Djibouti Arta Surface Study
3 Geothermal Development Company Ltd (GDC) Kenya Paka Drilling Programme
4 Geothermal Development Company Ltd (GDC) Kenya Korosi Drilling Programme
5 Cluff Geothermal Ltd Ethiopia Butajira Surface Study
6 Bureau Geologique des Comores Union of Comoro Karthala Drilling Programme
7 Energy Development Corporation Rwanda Kinigi Drilling Programme

How big a game changer can geothermal be for East Africa (EA) in your view?
My view is that geothermal energy will be a real game changer if all the regional members (include geothermal energy in the respective energy-mix) in implementing their ‘Power Visions 2030, 2040’ targets. Using today’s technologies, Eastern Africa has the potential to generate about 2,500-6,500 MW of energy from geothermal power (3). The global geothermal installed capacity in 2015 was 12.04-GW while that of Africa was 0.6-GW as depicted in Map 1, below. (4) Using a figure of 20.0-GW as depicted by Demissie (5), EA region and Africa as a whole; would lead the world and surely bring about astronomical economic and social development and bring an end; to Africa’s image of a ‘Dark Continent’.


Map 1: World Geothermal Resource Installed Capacity in 2015 Worldwide:
(Credit: Geothermal Power Generation in the World 2010-2014 Update Report, Ruggero Bertani)

What is your vision for this sector?
My vision for the geothermal resource sector is that of astronomical growth given the multi prong interests as evidenced by in-country, regional and continental commitments in providing sufficient electricity targets by 2020, 2030 and 2040 periods. This growth is inevitable given global warming, greenhouse gases and low electric energy penetration especially in Low Developed Nations of the world.

Geothermal Resources Council President Paul Brophy said the current global geothermal energy through the end of the decade will bring the existing approximately 12.6 GW to nearly 21.5 GW, with smaller increases in 2016-2017 giving way to larger annual increases from 2018-2020. The Climate Policy Initiative estimated that public finance for geothermal must increase from $7.4 billion to as much as $73 billion to drive private investments that would meet a 23 GW target by 2030. There is an indicative financial resource of about $600 to motivate development in Indonesia, Kenya and the Caribbean throughout 2016 and a pledge of $20 billion to support on development of geothermal projects in East Africa’s Rift Valley and wind projects in North Africa (4 ibid).

What surprises you about the geothermal sector?
What surprises me most is the fact that Prince Piero Ginori Conti tested the first geothermal power generator on 4 July 1904 in Larderello, Italy followed by the world’s first commercial geothermal power station was built there in 1911.

Another surprise is that, many African key actors leading national energy and economic affairs may have come in contact with their county’s geothermal manifestations while in Primary or Secondary schools (aged 10 -16 years). Why, therefore; there are few or no geothermal power stations?

You are one of the five panellists during the geothermal track at EAPIC focusing on “Financial De Risking – How Improving Access to Equity and Other Funding Sources Plays a Catalytic Role in Geothermal Energy Development”. What will be your message and what are you hoping for during the geothermal track at the event?
My message will focus on availability of several financial resources and issues of their ease or difficulties to their accessibility lay emphasis to their managers’ and the recipients’ need to create novel policies to ensure geothermal energy sector development and sustainable utilization of resources and encouraging new and expanded  investments.

I sincerely hope that the panellists will articulate and offer insights, new and practical knowledge on the session topics to participants with their (participants) ensuing discussions and feedback making the geothermal track truly a ‘win-win’  event and the stakeholders take home applications improving and enhancing their operations of their facilities and businesses.

Anything you would like to add?
I am a believer of regional integrated geothermal development as a means of addressing energy resource development imbalance across Africa, overcoming national financial and associated risks, investors’ reluctance to invest in the capital intensive exploration, optimizing regional and international facilities in addition to triggering private investments and their protection; and being a cure to chronic poverty, environmental destruction and response to the impact of climate changes that greatly affect Africa’s economies and attendant climate risk management and adaptation.

Nearly all these countries have set ambitious target to increase their national percentage of populations with access to electricity in their 2040 National Vision. In Uganda, for example, the set 2012/ 2013 baseline of 14% and a target of 30 % and  80 %  for 2019/ 2020 and Vision 2040, respectively.

The topic ‘Financial De Risking – How Improving Access to Equity and Other Funding Sources Plays a Catalytic Role in Geothermal Energy Development’ augers well with formulating and implementing geothermal resources development to increase electrical resources  targets by the year 2040.

 1 : Wabunoha, R,(2014): “Geothermal Laws, Policies and Institutional Frameworks in Eastern Africa” Proceedings 5th African Rift geothermal Conference Arusha, Tanzania, 29-31 October 2014
 2 : GRMF announces results of 3rd application round for geothermal…www.thinkgeoenergy.com/grmf-announces-results-of-3rd-application-round-for-geot…downloaded 1st September, 11:46.
 3 : Teklemariam, M.: “Overview of Geothermal Resource Utilization and Potential in The East African Rift System”   Proceedings of The 30th Anniversary Workshop of UNU-GTP, (2008),
 4 : Delony, J. (2016): “The Future of Geothermal Industry Becoming Clear” in Renewable Energy World, January 26, 2016.
 5 : Demissie G., 2013), “Africa’s Geologic Development and The Associated Geothermal Resources” 24th Colloquium of African Geology, 8 – 14 January 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, ppt