Warm geothermal waters at the Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, Iceland.

Cape Town - The potential for growth in the use of geothermal energy in Africa is great and, by 2030, its use would have increased by five times.

This emerged Tuesday in a side session about geothermal energy at the South African International Renewable Energy Conference (Sairec).

Geothermal energy harnesses heat generated by the earth’s core, deep underground. This energy is found in reservoirs of hot water that naturally occur in nature. Many people understand what geothermal energy is when they see steam escaping from a natural spring.

The direct uses for geothermal energy in 82 countries include heat pumps, space heating, greenhouse heating, aquaculture pond heating, agricultural drying, industrial uses, bathing and swimming, cooling and snow melting among others.

A very large percentage of geothermal energy is used for geothermal heat pumps. These heat pumps can be used to supply schools with heat. They also can be used to heat or cool buildings.

Kenya is among the top ten countries in the world that has geothermal power capacity and additions, said Marietta Sander, executive director of the International Geothermal Association in her keynote address at the geothermal energy side session at Sairec.

Kenya is one of the countries in the world consistently developing its geothermal capacity through new projects as the country looks at alternative, renewable energy to meet its energy needs. Kenya is on track to achieve a target of 5 530MW of geothermal energy by 2020.


Sander pointed out “the top five geothermal power producers in the world are the US, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico and New Zealand”.


Sander said Africa and the Middle East were “hotspots” for future geothermal investments.

The region has 611MW installed power capacity with 60 projects in progress, with 20 of these projects being located in the East African Rift Valley System, which extends from Kenya to Ethiopia.

She also noted that the total installed global capacity for geothermal energy is 12.6GW.

Sander said there is great scope for geothermal energy in Africa, which has an installation capacity of 0.6GW compared to 4.81GW in Asia Pacific, 3.45GW in North America, 2.13GW in Europe and 1.64GW in Latin America.

Kenya is also among the top 15 countries in the developing world with geothermal potential, however, Sander said that these countries often encounter barriers as they seek to further develop geothermal energy projects.

They include credit risk barriers, currency instability, institutional barriers and political uncertainty.

As a result multinational institutions are often the only source available for financing geothermal projects in emerging markets.

These multinational institutions include the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank Group, European Bank for Reconstruction, the African Development Bank, and even the Nordic Development Fund as well as the OPEC Fund for International Development.

Sander said the projects were all about the “development of bankable projects that enable capacity building and engage investors at an early stage”.


Philippe Niyongabo, African Union Commission head of Energy Division and Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF) Project Manager said it encouraged public and private investors as well as public and private partnerships to develop geothermal prospects for power generation in Eastern Africa.

This investment, he said, occurred through providing different types of grants for infrastructure development, surface studies, drilling and continuation with the project.

The GRMF, he said, “plays an important role in unlocking investment in East Africa”.

Since investing in geothermal energy is a high risk activity, Niyongabo recommended that there should be a “focus on the region with high geothermal resources and the risk should be shared with developers”.

“A special purpose company, Geothermal Development Company was created in 2010 to facilitate accelerated geothermal development,” Niyongabo said.

The company plans to add 1 646MW of geothermal energy to Kenya’s growing geothermal capacity by 2017.

How it works

Markos Melaku, an Independent Geothermal Consultant from Ethiopia explained how geothermal energy works. “The heat from the earth’s core can be harnessed by drilling for hot water or steam. The heat is extracted and harnessed, after which the water is re-injected back into the geothermal reservoir”.

He said geothermal energy has a larger base load power capacity and is more competitive than other forms of renewable energy and was relatively less expensive than energy produced from coal and natural gas.

Geothermal energy has experienced a steady growth rate of over 5% over the last few years, said Sander.

Melaku said the potential for geothermal energy in South Africa can be seen in the number of natural thermal springs across the country.

Safiatou Alzouma Nouhou of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Global Geothermal Alliance said that it was important to engage all stakeholders and members of the public about the uses of geothermal energy.

Nouhou said, by 2030, countries would be using five times more geothermal power.

She acknowledged the policy uncertainty in the regulatory environment and the shortage of skilled professionals in this field, saying it was all about “using the platform well” to talk about geothermal energy.

Noting the potential for geothermal energy in Africa, Nouhou said that it was all about capacity building, creating strategic partnerships and building a platform for dialogue, communication and coordination.