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East Africa’s geothermal potential can provide energy stability says IRENA

The geothermal energy resources of East Africa are so rich, if harnessed could help meet the electricity requirements and direct use needs of several countries in the region.

CAPE TOWN – East Africa’s vast geothermal energy resources can provide the region with renewable, affordable and stable energy supply. This according to a recently published report titled Geothermal Energy Development in Eastern Africa by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The region currently has a geothermal energy capacity of 900MW from plants in Ethiopia and Kenya . This is significantly low given the region’s geothermal energy resources which remain largely underexploited. 

The countries of the East African Rift region hold significant geothermal potential, giving them valuable options for sustainable electricity production and direct use. Harnessing these resources can provide a renewable, affordable and stable energy supply. It can also help countries to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement: IRENA.

Read more: Harnessing Geothermal in Africa.

Several countries in East Africa have Geothermal energy potential

The East African Rift System (EARS) spans 6,400 kilometres in length and up to 64 kilometres in width and runs through several countries in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, DRC, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti). The geographical expansiveness makes it one of the largest rifts in the world. The rift system is characterised by a spreading crust which is the tectonically active region.

The geological attributes of the EARS makes it so rich in geothermal energy resources that if harnessed could help meet the electricity requirements and direct use needs of several countries in the region.

Limited awareness contributing to slow development

The report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlights that the limited awareness about the region’s geothermal resource potential and the associated benefits, especially about direct use applications, such as in agriculture and food processing, may be contributing to slow development.In addition, current risk mitigation instruments and incentives fail to cover direct use projects.

Furthermore, the report identifies the lack of adequately skilled, local workforce in most of the countries of the EARS and limited understanding of the Western branch’s geology (until recently) as barriers to the industry’s development.

How EARS resources can be effectively harnessed

IRENA stresses that transparent, clear and predictable licensing and administrative procedures are needed to attract developers and investors. Adopting Innovative financing approaches would improve the effectiveness of existing financing and risk mitigation instruments for the projects. IRENA adds that to properly harness the geothermal resources in East Africa there is need for governments and development partners to work together to advance and accelerate the region’s geothermal development. Raising awareness about the possibilities and benefits of geothermal energy for direct uses is also critically important.

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