Ethiopia and Djibouti Join Push to Tap Geothermal Sources for Green Energy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Ethiopia and Djibouti are the latest global South countries to make a significant commitment to developing geothermal energy – a green energy source that draws on the heat below the earth’s surface (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_energy) – to meet future development goals.

Ambitiously, Ethiopia also hopes to build Africa’s largest geothermal power plant.

It joins Kenya, which in 2012, announced projects to expand its geothermal capacity further. Currently, Kenya is Africa’s largest geothermal producer and has geothermal resources concentrated near a giant volcanic crater in the Great Rift Valley with 14 fields reaching from Lake Magadi to Lake Turkana. There are also low temperature fields in Homa Hills and Massa Mukwe (http://www.gdc.co.ke/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=191&Itemid=163). Around 1,400 steam holes are being drilled.

Cooperating with Reykjavik Geothermal (rg.is), a US-Icelandic private developer, Ethiopia will spend US $4 billion to build a 1,000 megawatt geothermal plant at Corbetti (http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=221290). It is expected to be ready in eight to 10 years. The country wants to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Drilling will need to go down as deep as 3 kilometers to tap the source. This is expensive and a technological challenge, thus the need for international expertise. The country hopes to develop this source of energy and then export electricity to neighboring African countries.

Another plant, Aluto Langano 7, is being built 201 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, the capital, by a partnership between the Japanese government, Ethiopia and the World Bank.

Ethiopia has enormous potential for geothermal energy, according to a paper in the journal Geothermics: “Ethiopia holds an enormous capacity to generate geothermal energy in the volcano-tectonically active zones of the East African Rift System (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0375650513000023).”

At present, 70 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa, some 600 million, are without a domestic electricity supply (USAID). Electricity and other sources of energy are required if living standards are to be raised for millions of the world’s poor. The danger of this, however, is to the planet if the energy comes from polluting sources.

In March 2013 the World Bank announced a significant push to increase development of geothermal resources around the world, and in particular in energy-hungry, fast-developing countries.

“Geothermal energy could be a triple win for developing countries: clean, reliable, locally produced power,” the bank says. “And once it is up and running, it is cheap and virtually endless.”

The bank joined forces with Iceland to make a pledge to secure US $500 million in financing to get geothermal projects up and running. The announcement was made at the Iceland Geothermal Conference (http://geothermalconference.is/) in Reykjavík, the Icelandic capital.

Few countries have such easy access to geothermal energy as Iceland, with its plentiful volcanoes, geysers and hot springs bursting through the surface. But it is there, under the ground, and through the Global Geothermal Development Plan (GGDP), it is hoped this plentiful energy source will become the norm for countries around the world.

The World Bank believes at least 40 countries can get into geothermal on a significant scale with the correct investment. Many developing world regions are rich in geothermal resources, including East Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and the Andean region.

Just 11 gigawatts of geothermal capacity is currently being tapped in the world. Nuclear power, for example, generates 370 gigawatts a year (2012) (EIA). What has held back many countries has been the high upfront costs involved in getting projects going. A site must be found, drilled and tested to see if it is viable.

The GGDP plan is to raise US $500 million from donors and others to fund geothermal exploration and development. The GGDP will identify promising sites and then acquire funding to pay for drilling to identify commercially viable projects.

The World Bank has increased financing for geothermal development from US $73 million in 2007 to US $336 million in 2012. It comprises 10 per cent of the Bank’s renewable energy lending.

The Icelandic International Development Agency (iceida.is) signed a partnership in September 2013 with the government of Ethiopia to undergo geothermal surface exploration and to build Ethiopia’s capacity to develop this energy source. The World Bank estimates that Ethiopia has the potential to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) of energy from geothermal sources.

The Geological Survey of Ethiopia (GSE) and the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) will undertake exploration at sites in Tendaho Alalobeda and Aluto Langano.

It fits in with a wider push by Ethiopia to develop its renewable energy resources. The country is also increasing investment in hydro-electric power.

The Ethiopia project is part of the wider World Bank-Iceland compact to develop global geothermal energy capacity. It is the second such arrangement, with the first already underway in Rwanda.

Djibouti is also moving into geothermal, with a new agreement with the World Bank to develop a site at Lake Assal. The World Bank will provide US $6 million to evaluate its commercial potential. Djibouti tried to develop its geothermal resources privately but was not successful.

Overall, geothermal power has the potential to help reduce Djibouti’s electricity production costs by 70 per cent, boost access to electricity for the population and alleviate the country’s energy dependency. The country hopes to have 100 per cent green energy by 2020.

Joining forces on helping boost geothermal in Africa is USAID’s Power Africa fund, which is providing US $7 billion in financial support and loan guarantees for energy projects.

Apart from generating electricity, what else can this powerful resource do? Countries such as Iceland now use hot geothermal water to heat homes and provide domestic hot water. Iceland also has an extensive network of swimming pools and spas in each town. The Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) is a good example of how geothermal power generation can have lots of side benefits. The giant, steamy blue-colored lagoon is the consequence of an accident in 1976 at the nearby geothermal power plant; it’s now a spa and one of the country’s main tourist attractions.

The geothermal-heated pools and spas play a key role in keeping the cold north Atlantic country healthy – Iceland ranked number one on the UNDP human development index in 2007 – and provide a recreational source even in the depths of winter.

Resources

1) Iceland Review: A great way to learn about life on an island powered by geothermal energy. Website: icelandreview.com

2) Nordic Development Fund: The Nordic Development Fund (NDF) is the joint development finance institution of the five Nordic countries. The objective of NDF’s operations is to facilitate climate change investments in low-income countries. Website: ndf.fi

3) Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA): The Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA) is an autonomous agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is responsible for the implementation of official Icelandic bilateral development cooperation.  It follows the Icelandic government’s Act on Development Cooperation No 121/2008, which is in keeping with the UN Millennium Development Goals and other international commitments, such as the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Website: iceida.is

4) Geothermal Exploration Project, NDF: The main objective of the Geothermal Exploration Project is to assist countries in East Africa to enhance geothermal knowledge and capacity in order to enable further actions on geothermal energy development in the respective countries. The project could extend to 13 countries in the East Africa Rift Valley: Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Website: http://www.iceida.is/iceida-projects/nr/1488

5) Power Africa: Power Africa – an initiative to double the number of people with access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Power Africa will achieve this goal by unlocking the substantial wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, and geothermal resources in the region to enhance energy security, decrease poverty, and advance economic growth. Website: http://www.usaid.gov/powerafrica

6) Geological Survey of Ethiopia: The GSE has been generating , collecting  and managing geoinformation of the country for the last 4 decades. Website: http://www.gse.gov.et/index.php

7) Home geothermal: A feature from Popular Mechanics on how geothermal can work in the home. Website: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/hydropowergeothermal/4331401

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