View of a
geothermal power
plant in Kenya
 
Nairobi, Kenya — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 18 February 2011 – The Great Rift Valley “’ an area of East Africa with strong tectonic activity “’ offers immense potential for large-scale geothermal projects, and some estimates put the resource potential along the valley at 15 000MW.

Reuters reports that in order to take advantage of that base-load resource (and to become less dependent on the seasonal variability of hydropower) a few countries in the region are adopting strong targets for geothermal development.

In a region where the population has limited access to electricity, the slew of geothermal projects under development could expand that reach – assuming the grid and workforce in countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda can handle the coming expansion of power plants.

Kenya is the leader in African geothermal power production. Last year, the country’s main power plant developer, KenGen, announced plans to develop 280MW of geothermal by 2013. And the government-owned developer, Geothermal Development Company (GDC) has set a target of 200 MW per year over the next decade.

With over 210MW of projects completed, Kenya is no stranger to geothermal. But the lack of a qualified workforce and a shortage of drilling rigs may hinder the goal of getting 2 300MW of projects in the ground by 2020.

GDC says it doesn’t have enough domestic workers to develop the projects in its pipeline. The company is using workers from China who are flown in and work month-long shifts, significantly increasing the cost of developing projects.

The other problem has been drilling rigs. Because of competition with the oil and gas industry, the lack of rigs has been a big hindrance for geothermal developers around the world.

To assist the Kenyans with equipment needs, the Export-Import Bank of China and the French Development Agency said last week that they would loan the Kenyan government more than USD $160 million to purchase five drilling rigs. If the government can acquire the rigs, it will bring the total number in the country to 10, which is close to the 12 needed in the next few years.