Rwanda plans to include geothermal power in its energy mix in a bid to tackle severe electricity challenges and power its fast-expanding economy.
The East African nation says it has set itself a target of generating 300 MW from geothermal sources in the next six years.
Stephen Onacha, an energy expert at Rwanda’s Ministry of Infrastructure, says that the drilling of three geothermal exploration wells, at a cost of $20-million, will start this year.
“From surface studies, we believe Rwanda has [great] potential for the development of geothermal power,” he says.
The decision to invest in geothermal energy is part of a comprehensive energy diversification programme aimed at expanding Rwanda’s installed capacity to 1 000 MW in seven years, connecting more people to the grid and driving economic growth.
The programme is expected to cost a staggering $900-million, and various financers, such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the European Union, have already committed to assisting Rwanda in the implementation of key projects, including the upgrading of the country’s dilapidated transmission and distribution infrastructure and the construction of new generation plants.
Although Rwanda is East Africa’s fastest-growing economy, with the World Bank forecasting gross domestic product growth of 7% in 2010, the country has been facing major energy challenges.
The Rwanda Electricity Corporation says the country’s installed capacity stood at a mere 69 MW in 2009, but plans are under way to increase this capacity to 130 MW by the end of next year through investments in small hydropower plants and methane gas plants. Only 6% of the population is connected to the electricity grid.
If Rwanda’s aspiration of boosting power generation capacity to 130 MW by the end of 2012 is realised, 16% of its ten-million-odd people will have access to electricity.
A World Bank study conducted in 2008 concluded that Rwanda needs to invest heavily in geothermal plants. This is based on the fact that Rwanda is located in a prime area of the East African Rift Valley – one of the world’s hottest spots for geothermal activity.
“Systematic assessment and exploration of geothermal resources for energy production would not only address the recurring energy crisis in Rwanda, but would also [ensure] long-term energy security,” notes the study.
The World Bank estimates the geothermal potential along the East African Rift Valley is in excess of 15 000 MW.
This huge potential has largely remained unexploited, with Kenya, which is believed to have potential to generate 7 000 MW, managing to exploit only 280 MW.
Kenya is, however, undertaking enormous investments, with a view to increasing geothermal power generation to 3 000 MW by 2017.