The disruptive yet pragmatic solution to all of our energy shortcomings hinges on the optimal integration of megawatts from all the existing sustainable energy generation technologies and, geothermal energy is one of the most imperative.
Chagaka Kalimbia, principal research and innovation engineer at Tanzania Geothermal Development Company, published an Op-Ed on East Africa’s geothermal market in The Citizen Newspaper in Tanzania. The article is republished here with permission from the author.
Despite originating from the engineering lexicon, megawatt, an electrical power unit of measurements similar to kilometres in length, has enjoyed mainstream recognition.
The effortlessly grasping of megawatts among the public is certainly due to the constant reverberations of the unit among parliamentarians and decision-makers who seek to demonstrate strides and gaps in the electricity supply industry.
Within Africa’s power-hungry nations, megawatt has remarkably stapled the controversial status on various occasions. In 2010, a Zambian Government Official was furiously quoted in favour of megawatts than lengthy fruitless political promises in the power sector, he asserted- “We need megawatts, not megawords”.
Fascinatingly, the kilowatt-hour, a crucial index for the actual electrical energy produced from the installed megawatts never receives the equivalent attention. The underappreciation of kilowatt-hours as a pivotal criterion can be detrimental when making sound decisions in the development of the vibrant power sector.
From the technical standpoints, different generational sources inherently yield different kilowatt-hours from a megawatt except when running at full blast. A power plant with enormous nameplate megawatts while producing fewer kilowatt-hours is costly to run, infeasible and unsustainable.
According to Tanzania’s Power System Master Plan of 2020, the total grid-installed power capacity stood at 1,565.72 megawatts with the portfolio heavily skewed to natural gas and hydropower. It can furthermore be deduced from the Plan that more than 60% of grid-based megawatts are sourced from fossil fuels, let alone the significant contribution of far-flung regions not connected to the grid which banks on the same.
The overreliance on fossil fuel megawatts not only frustrates the global efforts of attaining universal access to environmentally benign energy services but is also equipped with the risk of resource depletion, susceptibility to international price shocks, and environmental pollution, particularly emission of carbon dioxide.
It is also worth mentioning, despite hydropower being a cleaner generation source than fossil fuels, the ongoing threat of global climate change perpetuates the odds of worsening droughts and prolonged dry spells hence posing a stern sustainability question to the country’s most ancient generational source.
The disruptive but yet pragmatic solution to all of the shortcomings hinge on the optimal integration of megawatts from all the existing sustainable energy generation technologies and, geothermal energy is one of the most imperative.
The technology uses heat that originates from the Earth’s core in form of steam to spin the turbine blades to generate electricity. As the heat is continuously generated at the Earth’s core, the technology can effectively supply all of humanity’s energy needs if the technical and commercial barriers particularly those associated with drilling deeper geothermal wells are lessened.
The US Department of Energy GeoVision report estimated the total worldwide geothermal thermal megawatts being more than twice the amount needed to supply total global primary energy consumption in 2015.
The East African Rift that doubly traverses Tanzania, provides unprecedented access to geothermal energy – this is elucidated by the observable alignment of several thermal springs along the rift, some with temperatures up to 80 degrees Celsius. Kenya is the only country in the region and the continent with commercial geothermal electric power production with a capacity of more than 800 megawatts—the first megawatts installed in the mid-80s.
To this day, geothermal is proven to be mature, a low-operating-cost, renewable, reliable, affordable and clean electricity supply. A megawatt from a geothermal plant does not only ensure tremendous kilowatt-hours but also guarantees uniquely reliable power around the clock and is not subject to oil price shocks and negative impacts of climate change.