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The challenging relationship of Uganda with geothermal energy development

Sempaya geothermal hot springs, Uganda (source: flickr/ Joostv, creative commons)
Alexander Richter Alexander Richter 23 Apr 2019

Despite ambitious plans, Uganda faces challenges to attract investors to the development of its geothermal resources, with currently only three active projects in earlier stages of development.

A recent article from Uganda describes the country’s “… love – hate affair with Geothermal energy”.

In its plans for the future, the country’s electricity regulator hails a balanced energy generation mix, including different sources of energy, such as hydro power, thermal, solar and wind, among others. So far there is no geothermal energy utilisation in the country, despite it being possibly the “cheaper” option to various other sources of energy.

The government is looking for development partners, so Ms Ziria Tibalwa, CEO of the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), as exploration and drilling is an expensive element of development.

Five years back, seven companies received licences to explore geothermal energy. This figure has dropped to only three.
Currently, Gids Consult Limited holds the licence to Buranga in Bundibugyo which is currently drilling while Ihimbo in Rukungiri is held by Moto geothermal project Limited at the surface exploration stage.

Panyigoro sits with Bantu Energy Uganda Limited which has only started with the surface exploration.

While studies put the cost of geothermal power between 5 and 10 cents, which is cheaper than solar and some hydro plants, Mr Godfrey Bahati, commissioner Geothermal resources department, directorate of geology survey and mines, says the cost depends on different factors.

“If the area is hilly, you definitely have a higher price because you have to build escarpments, roads, while if the land is flat, it is easier hence cheaper,” he explains.

He added that the behaviour of the resource underground also matters.  Uganda has 24 sites with potential to produce about 1,500 MW of geothermal energy.

Studies have been undertaken in different areas. Bundibugyo, Kibiro, Panyimur and Buranga among others bear exploration potential. However, no fruition has been seen for decades in this sphere.

So the question remains where the country goes from now. The article in the Daily Monitor, says that the only way forward might be for the “government to carry out feasibility studies and exploration to attract private sector development. Once areas with geothermal energy capacity are mapped out, (…) it will be easier to attract investment in this sphere.”

Source: Monitor