The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and several partners have launched a series of online seminars designed to help the countries of East Africa ramp up exploration for geothermal energy, a source of power that experts say could be game changing for the region.
The sessions, which included geothermal experts from 11 countries, explored a technique known as slim-hole drilling, which sees exploration companies sink narrow wells deep into the ground to tap into pockets of heat and steam. These slim wells cost up to 75 per cent less than conventional wells, which are typically one of the most expensive parts of a geothermal project and could allow countries to dramatically expand exploration.
Meseret Teklemariam Zemedkun, the energy programme manager with UNEP, called slim-hole drilling a "game changer" for a region struggling with power shortages. "This technology significantly contributes to the reduction of risks and cost, creates smaller environmental footprints and results in increased access to resources."
East Africa is home to the Great Rift Valley, a 6,500-kilometre long depression that is a hub of tectonic activity. Along much of the rift's length, heat from the interior of the earth bursts to the surface. It's estimated that if Eastern Africa could harness that energy, it could generate 20 gigawatts of electricity. Experts say that's key in a region where tens of millions of people do not have power.
The virtual training sessions helped East African experts gain a better understanding of slim-hole drilling technology and share both case studies and best practices. Twenty-six participants from Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia participated in the seminars. The sessions were held in partnership with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Acts, the New Zealand Geothermal Facility and the non-profit group UniServices.
"The webinar series for slim-hole drilling was useful and has broadened our understanding of slim-hole drilling technologies," said Adonias Mkangala from the Tanzania Geothermal Development Company. "We were lucky to discuss and share experiences and ideas with the geothermal experts from New Zealand and Auckland University."
The seminars were organised under the auspices of the Interim Project Coordination Unit of the Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence, currently hosted by UNEP. Since 2017 UNEP, in collaboration with various partners, has held geothermal training sessions at facilities owned by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company and the Geothermal Development Company in Kenya. In March 2020, UNEP started delivering training using its e-learning platform. The Africa Geothermal Centre of Excellence has trained over 300 geothermal experts since its inception in 2017.