Harnessing geothermal energy is key to powering Africa's future

Geothermal energy plant, Olkaria, Naivasha. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

Since 2000, Africa has made tremendous strides in developing its electricity sector.

Data from International Energy Agency indicates that in Africa, the number of people getting connected to electricity for the first time almost tripled from eight million between 2000 and 2013 to 24 million people between 2014 and 2019.

However, even as these strides remain remarkable, the World Energy Outlook 2022 projects that about 660 million people will still be without access to electricity in 2030 and 85 per cent of them will be living in sub-Saharan Africa.

These statistics, coupled with the ever-increasing power demand, exploding global population, and increasing industrialisation, put a spotlight on the need to fully exploit renewables like geothermal, which faces less impact resulting from climate change and unpredictable weather. According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency, regions such as East Africa have a geothermal potential of over 10,000MW.

As a result, several countries have embarked on an ambitious energy expansion plan that targets an increase in national power generation capacity from around 2,290MW to about 17,760MW by 2030.

Geothermal is expected to contribute about 7,000MW. Over the years, Kenya has traditionally relied on hydroelectricity for its power generation, but new developments in geothermal exploration technology mean that this natural resource is now promising enough to warrant major investment.

At Olkaria in the Rift Valley, the leading electric energy producer KenGen is spearheading these efforts by investing in exploring the country's potential for geothermal power generation. The company has taken advantage of new technology to explore the country's vast geothermal resources.

These resources are now being harnessed to increase the country's power generation capacity and diversify its sources of energy to complement hydroelectricity and move away from fossil fuels. This experience presents a key opportunity in securing the country’s future on energy with informative lessons that other African countries can consider exploring. With increased technological advancement and improved financing mechanisms, there is a high potential for large-scale development of geothermal resources through public private partnerships.

This will not only increase access to electricity but also improve the continent’s competitiveness and productivity at a reduced cost. Further, the exploration of geothermal will position Africa as a leader in geothermal energy, further generating more revenue for its economy.

In reference to how the focus on geothermal energy has contributed to companies’ expansion in Kenya, harnessing this resource will also come with multiplier effect and more opportunities, including creating jobs. As a continent that has hitherto relied on hydroelectricity, which accounts for about 17 per cent of the total installed power, Africa stands to win big if it embraces geothermal renewable energy, considering increasing climate hazards, which are likely to pose a challenge to hydro-power generation in Africa.

Going forward, business and environmental leaders need to consider and drive the conversation on investing in geothermal resources as a reliable and clean energy option to fast track the realisation of 100 per cent transition by the year 2030. This will be the ultimate sustainable approach towards meeting both Africa’s existing and growing energy demand while also being kind to the environment.