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African countries seek to boost geothermal power

Date: 22-Apr-03
Country: KENYA

Geothermal power is electricity produced by trapping steam released by hot rocks with water reservoirs deep in the earth. The electricity is clean and also reliable, unlike hydroelectricity, production of which fluctuates according to rainy seasons, experts said.

Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia planned to increase the production from the current tiny 57 megawatts (MW) produced only in Kenya.

Geothermal power in the African countries has remained underdeveloped despite its untapped potential of 7,000 MW mainly because of the high initial costs required to assess the commercial viability of a geothermal resource, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) says.

"Part of the plan is to get additional funding from many organisations and to do exploration and initial drilling," Peter Omenda, a senior geologist with KenGen, Kenya's state-owned electricity producer said.

Three American organisations, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States, have pledged to help finance the countries in exploring and expanding their geothermal resources.

Total amounts pledged for this projects were not readily available.

Omenda spoke after a UNEP-organised conference on geothermal energy held in Nairobi.

"Another factor inhibiting geothermal energy is that African nations are perceived as high risk by the international finance community," said John Garrison of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy that helped organise the conference.

One of the resolutions of the conference was to set up a risk guarantee fund for exploratory and appraisal drilling projects, Garrison said.

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