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Geothermal expansion for East Africa

10 December 2008 – The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) has said that East Africa is poised for an expansion of geothermal generation capacity in order to meet growing demand.  Studies on the conditions in Kenya have confirmed that Kenya can provide viable and cost effective geothermal power.  Resources are estimated at some 7 000MW for the whole of Africa.

According to Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, “It’s part of Africa’s future”.

"Geothermal is 100 percent indigenous, environmentally-friendly and a technology that has been under-utilised for too long," he added.

A survey project has helped identify new sites for geothermal, with generation capacity of 4 – 5MW up from 2MW generated from old wells and would mean saving of some US$75 million for the developer of a 70MW installation.

The project, which will extend to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania will use equipment and techniques currently being piloted in Kenya, and will be funded by the Global Environment Facility and World Bank to the tune of US$18 million.

Kenya alone has geothermal capacity of 4 000MW, compared to the current installed capacity of 1 000MW of which 60% is generated by hydro, 30% by fuel generation and only 10% from geothermal.  It is hoped that the proven economic viability of the Kenyan resources will encourage private investment, Steiner said.

The project is set to expand to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in 2009 by using the equipment and techniques piloted in Kenya and underwriting the risks of drilling, it said.

The total funding of nearly $18 million is provided by the Global Environment Facility and the World Bank.

The potential in Kenya alone is estimated at 4,000 MW compared with its current capacity of about 1,000 MW, Steiner said. Kenya gets 60 percent of its electricity from dams, 30 percent is fuel generated and the rest from geothermal.

By proving that geothermal power is economically viable, the Kenyan project has created incentives to attract private companies and reach the country’s full potential, Steiner said.

Many African countries, including economic powerhouse South Africa, face serious supply challenges which have caused power outages from Senegal to Tanzania.

The U.N.’s Climate Panel says geothermal energy could provide 2 percent of total global energy production by 2030 from less than 0.4 percent in 2004.

The number of countries using geothermal power worldwide is estimated to increase to nearly 50 by 2010 from 20 in 2000.