- Geothermal energy generation in East Africa could take a leap forward in 2009 after exploratory studies in Kenya exceeded all expectations, it was announced this week.
A new enterprise - the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) — is to drive forward the plan to harvest the steam locked among the rocks under East Africa, according to leaders of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). They made their announcement this week at the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland.
"Geothermal is 100 percent indigenous, environmentally friendly and a technology that has been underutilised for too long," said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.
"Combating climate change while simultaneously getting energy to the two billion people without access to it are among the central challenges of this generation," he added.
Over the last three years, GEF had funded a US$ 1 million project in Kenya to identify promising new drilling sites. Although there are already two geothermal sites near Nairobi, Kenya, the main challenge to expansion in the country, and elsewhere along the Rift, was said to be the risk associated with drilling and the high costs if steam is not found.
The project harnessed new technologies to locate promising sites. Mr Steiner said that the Rift Valley is now thought to have the potential to generate at least 4,000 megawatts of electricity.
"We have shown that geothermal electricity generation is not only technologically viable but also cost-effective," said Monique Barbut, chief executive officer of GEF.
The results meant that ARGeo now could expand geothermal projects up and down the Rift, which runs from Mozambique in the south to Djibouti in the north. The organisation is charged with raising private sector and public investment in selected geothermal sites in ARGeo countries as well as "creating an enabling environment for geothermal investments."
Participating countries were said to include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. KenGen - a Kenyan company - Germany and Iceland were also to be involved.
ARGeo is receiving US$ 18 million from the GEF, and is also supported by UNEP and the World Bank. Ms Barbut told the online science media 'SciDev.Net' that it was now expected to find private investment too.
But Sandy Gauntlett, of the non-governmental organisation the Global Forest Coalition, told 'SciDev.Net' that geothermal energy should be seen only as one option in a range of many clean energies that now run the risk of being ignored.
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