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Geothermal energy in East Africa

Geothermal energy generation in Africa could take a leap forward in 2009 after exploratory studies in Kenya “exceeded all expectations”, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

A new enterprise – the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) – will drive forward the plan to harvest the steam locked among the rocks under East Africa. UNEP and GEF made their announcement at the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland recently.

“Geothermal is 100% indigenous, environmentally friendly and a technology that has been under utilised for too long,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Combating climate change while simultaneously getting energy to the two billion people without access to it are among the central challenges of this generation,” he added.

Over the last three years, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has funded a US$1m (£670,000) project in Kenya to identify promising new drilling sites. Although there are already two geothermal sites near Nairobi, Kenya, the main challenge to expansion in the country, and elsewhere along the Rift, has been the risk associated with drilling and the high costs if steam is not found.

The project harnessed new technologies to locate promising sites. Steiner said that the Rift Valley is now thought to have the potential to generate at least 4,000 MW of electricity.

“We have shown that geothermal electricity generation is not only technologically viable but also cost-effective,” said Monique Barbut, chief executive officer of GEF.

Participating countries will include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. KenGen (a Kenyan company), and Germany and Iceland will also be involved.

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