18 March 2018

Ethiopia: Aluto-Langano Geothermal Expansion Comes to Life

Photo: Addis Fortune
Though Aluto-Langano Geothermal Plant has a capacity of generating seven megawatts of energy, it is currently generating only one megawatt.

The overdue expansion of the Aluto-Langano Geothermal Plant is going to get a fresh start following the recently announced tender by the Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) to hire a contractor for the project and procure rigs to drill the wells.

Announcing the tender last Tuesday, EEP is searching for a company that will provide two geothermal drilling rigs and accessories, rig operations and maintenance for drilling geothermal wells along with all the accessories, heavy machinery, trucks and vehicles.

The procurement could likely cost the EEP an estimated 120 million dollars.

Located on the Aluto volcanic complex of the Ethiopian Rift valley, close to the eastern mountain between Lake Langano and Ziway, some 200Km southeast of Addis Abeba, the plant is expected to generate 75MW of energy from eight wells.

The International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank has already provided financial assistance of about 126 million dollars out of the total project cost of 218 million dollars. IDA extended this support under its Geothermal Sector Development Project (GDSP).

The initial feasibility study for the project was conducted in 1986, which concluded that the geothermal resource was sufficient to support power generation. Later, the plant was established in 1998 as a pilot plant to test the geothermal resources in the area. It covers an area of about eight square kilometres, can generate up to 100MW of electric energy from the Aluto steam field, known to be one of the high temperature prospected areas in the country.

It has been generating seven megawatts of energy from the two small wells it has, but the EEP and the then Ministry of Mines & Energy started an attempt to optimise the plant in 2013.

However, it was cancelled due to two major reasons, problems in the procurement packaging in lots during auctions and the EEP was not technically ready to launch the project, according to a source from the EEP.

"The plant is not even generating one megawatt currently, which only meets the demand of the plant," said the same source.

Though it is the first geothermal plant in the country, it is going to be the third largest plant next to the 500MW geothermal power generating plant in Corbetti Caldera, 250Km south of Addis Abeba, in the Oromia regional state, and Tulu Moye, another 500MW geothermal project in Oromia Regional State.

A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and an Implementation Agreement (IA) were signed for the two projects some months back.

Currently, Ethiopia has a capacity of generating 4,200MW of energy while it has the potential of producing 45,000MW of hydropower, 10,000MW of geothermal and 1.3 million megawatts of wind power.

Ethiopia has the largest section of the 7,000Km East African Rift Valley, which boasts an abundant geothermal potential, but the country has been unable to match neighbouring Kenya's installed geothermal power capacity of about 630MW.

But in recent years, Ethiopia seems to be diversifying its energy source to include other renewable energy sources than the one it has been highly dependent on, namely, hydropower, which contributes 94pc of the total power. Moreover, the other renewable energy sources are non-seasonal, as opposed to hydropower, which is seasonal.

"To avert possible shortfalls and to complement hydropower generation, which is vulnerable in periods of severe droughts, for instance, geothermal development is essential," Solomon Kebede wrote in his research paper titled Geothermal Exploration & Development in Ethiopia: Status and Future Plan.

Along with the three geothermal projects which are going forward, the country is generating 120MW of energy from Ashgoda wind farm, 204MW from Adama I and II wind farms and 300MW from Ayisha Windfarm. Ethiopia is also working on Asella Wind Farm which will generate 100MW of energy.

Beyond local consumption, the country is dealing with neighbouring countries to export energy to them. Negotiations to export 1,000MW of electricity to Sudan and 60MW of energy to Djibouti are underway. The two projects would help the country to boost the revenue it generates from the export of electric power. In the last fiscal year, Ethiopia earned 73.4 million dollars exporting 700GWh of energy.

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