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US return to Paris pact will boost geothermal quest

By Jared Othieno | January 30th 2021
The US is a central global actor. [Courtesy]

America’s move to rejoin the Paris Agreements on Climate Change is a major psychological boost to renewables such as geothermal. The US is a central global actor, a pace-setter whose philosophical dispositions determine the pulse and trajectory of many aspects around the world. The nature and utilisation of energy is one of them. Science affirms that our world is warming and on the precipice. A red alert - apocalyptic even - of heatwaves, floods, drought, and rising sea levels - has been issued. It is an existential threat to humankind.

Reduction of Green House Gas emissions (GHG) to 2°C of pre-industrial levels was fronted to tame the climate chaos. At the heart of it is to replace fossils with renewables. That is how geothermal energy is plugged in.

As a renewable, geothermal puts Kenya at a strategic pedestal as a committed, progressive and responsible party supporting global solutions.

The geothermal ideal intersects perfectly with our updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that commit to a 32 per cent reduction of GHG by 2030. However, this promise was tethered to conditions precedents such as technological development and transfers, investment, capacity-building and financing.

Kenya has made bold and impressive steps in decarbonisation. Investment in geothermal attests to this. Today the country ranks seventh globally, with an installed geothermal capacity of 823MW. But we cannot sit pretty.  More bold steps are needed to tap into Kenya’s geothermal potential estimated at 10,000MW. The sector requires refocus, including new regimes such as subsidies, more funding and strategic partnerships with countries such as US, Iceland, Japan and New Zealand, which have excelled in geothermal technology.

New frameworks are also needed to protect Kenya’s energy jewel from opportunists and spoilers. And going forward, carbon levies should not be far-fetched and such funds channeled to state entities like Geothermal Development Company (GDC) to boost the renewable energy sector. Such reforms will be transformative.

GDC has firmed up its corporate governance, appropriately aligned resources, designing new frontiers for investor-entry, and continued with the sterling tradition of innovations. Indeed, we are stretching the elasticity of our imagination to deliver this unique green power. For instance, our drilling engineers are pursuing a delicate but rewarding technique called directional drilling - that is drilling geothermal well vertically deep into the earth then horizontally.

And the results are terrific. In one of such undertaking at Menengai, our engineers harnessed 30 MW from one well. That is like drilling six wells at a cost of one. An ordinary well yields from 3-10 MW. This is a major saving of time and resources. It means an accelerated geothermal environment critical to the economy and the environment. Beyond Menengai, our drilling campaigns in the Baringo-Silali prospect are also posting impressive results. Already, we have three successful geothermal wells. In due course, Kenyans will start to enjoy green power from this frontier.

We are also harnessing heat from the hot geothermal fluids for manufacturing, farming and in leisure and recreation. For instance, we have installed a semi-commercial grain drier that uses geothermal steam for drying cereals. The facility is thanks to the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEDA). We received a grant to fabricate the semi-commercial drier, which has a capacity of 20 tons of maize per day. The drier is installed at the Menengai Geothermal Project, the first in Africa. This strategy is critical to food security and industrialisation. Importantly, it shows the way of displacing fossil fuel for heating industrial boilers and for drying. Geothermal is prolific.

Besides, that it is not affected by weather, its reliability and affordability make it one of Kenya’s strategic national assets. A new impetus into green energy, will spark an accelerated geothermal development good for business and environment.

-Eng Othieno is the Managing Director and CEO, Geothermal Development Company (GDC).

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