AfDB: Geothermal plays an important role for Africa beyond electricity

Geothermal direct use at greenhouse at Menengai, Kenya (source: Helen Robinson)
Alexander Richter 9 Nov 2016

Geothermal energy can provide more than just electricity as the Menengai project by GDC in Kenya shows. Providing drinkable water supply to local communities, it provides also employment and direct use opportunities, so the African Development Bank.

In a piece published by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the author describes how “Geothermal energy can curb Africa’s energy shortage and more”.

In Africa it is very common for people having to walk long distances to fetch water for domestic use. At the Menengai Geothermal project in Kenya, this has changed. In the past community members had to walk up to 12 kilometers in search of clean water. As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, the Geothermal Development Company (GDC), has drilled 10 large wells, one of which is dedicated to the community.

Water from the borehole is pumped into a four million-litre tank, and distributed to neighbouring households through a water kiosk. About 3,000 families and a school are benefitting from the water; livestock too. “We can now drink clean water, wash our clothes, and provide water for our animals. I now walk less than a kilometre to the water point,” said Tabitha Karimi, a community member.

The CSR activity is one of the key indirect benefits of the project. The main impact is envisaged on boosting energy supply.

Launched in 2012, the Menengai Geothermal Development Project seeks to develop a geothermal steam field meant to produce enough energy for 400 MW power generation facilities by the private sector and/or in partnership with Government. It aims at addressing Kenya’s increasing demand for power, at the same time diversifying sources of power supply by developing the country’s huge geothermal potential. The addition is equivalent to 26 percent of the country’s total installed generation capacity currently.

The project will also provide more affordable and reliable electricity supply to more households, businesses and industries, according to Gabriel Negatu, AfDB’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa. This additional energy supply into national grid will result in increased electricity connections to benefit about 500,000 households, of which 70,000 are in rural areas. The new connections will also benefit about 300,000 small businesses.

The project though also provides employment opportunities for the younger generation in the region, with between 30 and 60 youths having gained monthly employment, according to GDC.

The company has also embarked on a pilot on direct use of geothermal energy to demonstrate the other benefits of using geothermal apart from power generation. The pilot is in four areas: geothermal-heated aquaculture ponds; geothermal-heated greenhouses; geothermal dairy units; and geothermal-powered laundry.

The direct use technology is set to place Kenya in the same league as United States of America, New Zealand and Iceland, which have reportedly diversified the use of geothermal energy away from traditional electricity generation for growth.

Source: African Development Bank Group