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Cool work with heat in Iceland inspires Africa

Vijay Iyer's picture

Iceland’s journey from being a developing country until the 1970s, to a modern, vibrant and developed economy owes much to its ability to tap into and develop geothermal energy. Its inspirational example in this regard can be replicated elsewhere, including East Africa, where geothermal potential is abundant. With this in mind, I visited Iceland last week, to assess how its story and unique expertise might provide lessons for others.

Iceland has achieved global leadership in geothermal technology and business in all its manifestations. It has an installed geothermal generation capacity of 665 megawatts, a remarkable achievement for a country with only 300,000 inhabitants. While 74% of Iceland’s electricity is generated from hydropower, about 26% comes from geothermal resources.

Iceland is also a leader in tapping waste heat from geothermal power plants to heat over 90% of its buildings at low-cost. Given the worldwide push for energy access and low-carbon energy solutions, geothermal is an attractive option where it is available.

One of those places is Africa’s vast Rift Valley, which stretches from Djibouti to Mozambique and takes in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, among others. Lying under this expanse are 14,000 megawatts of geothermal potential—enough to deliver power to 150 million people. Properly exploited, geothermal could deliver at least a quarter of the energy these countries will need by 2030. And this would be a renewable source, clean and climate-friendly. Can Iceland’s experience provide guidance as East Africans seek to exploit their resources? I think it can, and so do the Icelanders.

Kenya has already taken steps towards the geothermal road. In the 1980s, the Kenyans built a geothermal plant with the World Bank support at the Rift Valley site of Olkaria. Last year, the country obtained another Bank credit to expand its geothermal capacity by an additional 280 megawatts to add to the 198 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity. This will help reduce the drought-prone nation’s precarious hydropower, while also helping to meet business and industry needs for reliable, high-quality powerCurrently, of the total installed capacity of 1,473 megawatts, hydropower accounts for about 51%, with geothermal capacity at just 13%.

Iceland is already sharing its knowledge and expertise in geothermal development with several African countries rich in geothermal resources willing to follow Kenya’s example. Based on what I saw in Iceland, where geothermal has completely replaced coal, where geothermal power has given rise to business, investment and even tourism, I look forward to further developing this partnership to enable accelerated realization of this clean and valuable resource.

(Read more on World Bank's work on Renewable Energy here)



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Submitted by anjan sarkar on
brilliant work by shri vijay iyer. i compliment him, furthur looking for e-mail address of my old college friend vijay iyer from jabalpur mp india . anjansarkar bhopal

Submitted by Andrew Amadi on
The potential for geothermal energy in the Rift valley is immense. The approach that Africa must model its development path along the lines of other developed countries is a myth that needs to be debunked. Africa is in a unique position in the future or renewable energy. But doing what others have done will only make Africa a secondary market to companies that have worked in such countries. Development organizations favour this approach of tested tried and proven. There is never any room for innovation. The western development path has led to planetary destruction and collapse of financial systems yet time and time again; Africa is urged to borrow from these very systems. When it comes to energy, the situation is the same. The favoured approach is a quasi-industrial model with a centralized grid and distributed energy. In many parts of Africa, people are still largely rural. A decentralized system of energy generation would be more organic. Simple models that make it possible for Africans to invest and benefit from renewable energy where they are shelved. Solar, the most abundantly available source on the continent (even geothermal is from solar) is dismissed as costly. Africa has the opportunity to create an entire economy driven by the sun, productive and vibrant. Mobile technology has shown it is possible. A similar decentralized energy generation and use economy can be made with a mind set shift. We do not have to go through another industrial and technological revolution. We need to feed ourselves first and foremost. It can be achieved by taking a small step back. Renewable energy driving permaculture can create a green revolution and turn the dry lands to productive lands. Industrial agriculture and industrial pollution along the lines of the developed world will kill the one thing that Africa has in abundance. Large productive surface area. A big shift towards conservationist production can make Africa to be the world's food basket and not the world’s basket case. It calls from a clean break from everything as the west knows to things as will save the continent. Sadly, there is no meaningful discussion on these lines; independent thinking is drowned in the sea of poverty and desperation based on creating dependence under the guise of Technical support and Aid.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Correct. This is evidenced by hot springs in Amuru, Panyimur, and many other areas in the Ugandan part of the Western Rift Valley. No one seems to notice! Gideon Munduga

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