Djibouti joins the Rift Valley geothermal energy club

Africa Rift Valleys
Copyright: AfDB

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  • Geothermal projects are planned or on stream in countries such as Djibouti
  • They will help meet the African Development Bank's green growth strategy
  • Public-private partnerships are the way to fund these costly projects

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[NAIROBI] The African Development Bank (AfDB) is highlighting geothermal power as a way of not only helping to meet the energy demands of countries in the Horn of Africa and the Rift Valley, but also as part of a 'green growth' agenda in its 2013-2022 strategy for African transformation.

Projects are underway or planned in the Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya and now Djibouti, where the geothermal energy potential of the country's Lake Assal region, which lies in the Rift Valley, is being explored. The bank estimates the area has the potential to produce up to 200 megawatts of geothermal power, and is putting in US$7.5 million to fund the project.

In total, the Rift Valley could produce up to 14,000 megawatts of geothermal power, a type of clean, renewable energy whose exploitation the bank is financing.

"Countries in the region could meet their electricity demand by exploiting geothermal solutions," says Youssef Arfaoui, the bank's chief renewable energy specialist.

"AfDB's strategy for 2013-2022 will focus on supporting Africa's transition to green growth, ensuring access to modern energy and a lower carbon and climate-resilient growth path," Arfaoui tells SciDev.Net, adding that the bank is committed to promoting the increased use of clean sources of energy.

Power generation in Lake Assal is expected to start in 2018 at a cost of US$240 million, generating 40 to 60 megawatts. AfDB is recommending that public-private partnerships develop these power projects because of the big costs involved, a view shared by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi.

"Exploration and assessment drilling are risky and costly. African countries need to develop financing mechanisms to make investments in the sector viable. Governments and partners in the region are putting together risk-mitigation schemes," says Frank Wouters, IRENA deputy director-general.

The agency agrees with AfDB that the Rift Valley has potential that should be exploited. "African countries in the Great Rift Valley possess substantial, largely untapped geothermal resources which can generate electricity reliably and at a low cost, as Kenya is already doing," Wouters tells SciDev.Net

He notes that Djibouti could reduce costly imports of fossil fuels by using renewable energy sources such as geothermal heat.

The AfDB has in the past two years spent nearly 60 per cent of its energy financing on renewable energy, including geothermal power.

Part of the financing comes from the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa, which is administered by AfDB and which now has two main donors: USAID and the Danish government.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.