Kenya's efforts to develop its enormous geothermal resources received a boost on Friday when the US Agency for International Development (USAid) announced a move to make American geothermal expertise available to East African countries.
USAid said it will provide an unspecified amount of funds to enable US consultants to assist geothermal development in the Rift Valley.
“Under this win-win situation, East African countries will benefit from US expertise, and US companies will benefit from increased exposure and market reach into East Africa,” said Michael Curtis, a USAid official focused on Africa.
The announcement coincided with a panel on geothermal energy organised as part of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) forum taking place in Washington.
Cornel Ofwona, a resource manager for Kenya's Geothermal Development Co, told the Agoa audience that the country is currently tapping only 210 of an estimated reserve of 10,000 megawatts of geothermal power.
Exploitation of the resource has proceeded slowly, Mr Ofwona said. He recalled that “most investors pulled out” during the 1992-2000 period “because we did not have good politics and it was a time of structural adjustment.”
Much of Africa, including Kenya, suffers from “energy poverty,” Mr Curtis said at the Agoa session. And Mr Ofwona noted that only about 20 percent of Kenya's population has access to electricity, with geothermal accounting for a significant portion of the power that is being delivered.
Kenya must increasingly rely on geothermal to meet burgeoning energy demand because the country “has almost exhausted its hydroelectric potential,” said Meseret Teklemariam, an official with the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program. Hydro is also “unreliable” due to “climatic fluctuations,” she added.
Geothermal development in Kenya requires huge investments of private capital, noted Chris McCormick, an executive with Reykjavik Geothermal
And “private capital has to look at ease of doing business in deciding where to deploy capital,” Mr McCormick said, adding that “East Africa is well behind schedule for where projects in that region should be at this stage.”