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Geothermal key to powering Africa

By Stephen Morel
Climate Finance Specialist, OPIC

In the next three years, Africa is expected to see an unprecedented amount of geothermal power come online. Through President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, OPIC is poised to be a key player in unlocking the potential of geothermal on the continent. During the Geothermal Resources Council’s 38th Annual Meeting in September, attendees explored how best to develop and invest in African geothermal power initiatives.

gea geothermal summit stephen morel OPIC

During the conference, Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz detailed the Obama administration’s strong interest in developing geothermal power in East Africa. Representatives from Kenya’s Geothermal Development Companyand the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporationdiscussed the opportunities in each country, including the areas within their countries rich in geothermal resources they are looking to develop.

Kenya is one of several African countries with the potential to produce significant geothermal energy on the continent. Geothermal energy accounts for 12.5 percent of the country’s total electricity net generation, with an installed capacity of 200 megawatts. This represents only two percent of Kenya’s total potential for geothermal-powered electricity.

During the conference, geothermal industry leaders, including Yoram Bronicki, chairman of Ormat Technologies, and Dennis Gilles, CEO of US Geothermal, made strong calls for increased awareness and education of policymakers of the benefits of geothermal power. Ormat, an OPIC client, is a leader in the development of geothermal power in Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya, which is named for its hot springs and volcanoes.

In 2011, OPIC provided $310 million in financing to Ormat to support this expansion of a geothermal power plant in the region, doubling its operating capacity and adding 50 new megawatts of clean energy to the country’s electricity grid. The plant, which operates in an area abundant with wildlife, generates power using a proprietary technology that re-injects cooled water back into the reservoir to minimize the impact on the environment. The overall design of the plant was conceived with its national park setting in mind.

The Geothermal Resource Council conference not only drew executives with a history of successful geothermal development in Africa, but provided a forum to share vital technical information among possible future developers. Equipment providers, technical experts, African government officials, potential financiers, were all given a forum to trade insight and forge paths to expand the industry. The enthusiasm surrounding this event showed that with so much opportunity in the region, international developers see geothermal in Africa as a clean energy sector worth investing in.


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