SEREM: Harnessing geothermal vital to energising Africa’s future

If harnessed it will increase continent's power generation capacity, diversify sources of energy

In Summary
  • New developments in geothermal exploration technology have meant that this natural resource is now promising enough to warrant major investment.
  • Environmental leaders need to consider and drive the conversation on investing in geothermal resources as a reliable and clean energy option.
Abraham Serem, acting KenGen MD and CEO
Abraham Serem, acting KenGen MD and CEO

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

Data from International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates that in Africa, the number of people getting connected to electricity each year has almost tripled from eight to 24 million between 2000 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% of them will be living in sub-Saharan Africa – a conversation that is likely to continue following the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.

These statistics, coupled with the ever-increasing power demand, exploding global population and increasing industrialising efforts, put a spotlight on the need to fully exploit renewables in Africa like geothermal, which faces less impact resulting from climate change and unpredictable weather.

According to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), regions like East Africa have a geothermal potential of over 10,000MW.

As a result, several countries led by Kenya 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 mostly on hydroelectricity for its power generation, but new developments in geothermal exploration technology have meant that this natural resource is now promising enough to warrant major investment.

At Olkaria fields located in the rich volcanic Rift Valley, the leading electric energy producer KenGen is spearheading these efforts by investing heavily in exploring the country's potential for geothermal power generation.

The company has been able to take advantage of new technology to explore the country's vast geothermal resources, which were previously untapped due to their great depths.

These resources are now being harnessed to increase the country's power generation capacity and diversify its sources of energy to complement hydroelectricity and increasingly 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.

Looking into KenGen’s experience, sound leadership remains an important element in driving the exploration of geothermal.

With the relentless focus on exploitation of geothermal energy being informed by the immense potential that this form of energy has, more resources in terms of human resource should also come in handy.

This makes it critical in meeting growing demand for electricity in Kenya and across the African region where there is an increasing appetite for competitively priced energy.

With increased technological advancement and improved financing mechanisms, there is a high potential for large-scale development of geothermal resources through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

This will not only increase access to electricity but also improve the continent’s competitiveness and productivity at a reduced cost over time.

Further, the exploration of geothermal will position Africa as a leading geothermal leader, further generating more revenue for its economy and increase the continent’s energy status like Europe and Asia. 

In reference to how the focus on geothermal energy has contributed to companies’ expansion in countries like Kenya, harnessing this resource will also come with multiplier effect and more opportunities including creating jobs and filling the unemployment gap.

So far, KenGen is providing consultancy and drilling services to other African countries including Ethiopia, Djibouti and the Comoros.

This foray has positioned KenGen to become a major geothermal player and contribute towards Africa's green growth agenda.

Nonetheless, it is safe to say that geothermal renewable energy is the future of Africa as a whole.

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 embraced geothermal renewable energy considering the increasing climate hazards which are likely to pose a challenge to hydropower generation in Africa.

Going forward post COP27 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% 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.

The author is the Acting Managing Director and CEO of KenGen PLC

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