Why Uganda must switch to geothermal energy

geothermal-HaukurHerbertsson-flickrIn its effort to address ongoing power shortages, Uganda is making geothermal technology a viable option to solve energy problems and has taken a strategic decision to develop available energy sources in the country

The government of Uganda has stated that the country faces power supply shortage, which is affecting all sectors of the economy. The current energy supply of 849.5MW including 100MW from thermal power alone cannot meet the rising demand.

Benefits of geothermal energy:
In its latest power review, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development of Uganda, said that use of geothermal steam for electricity production is a proven technology dating back in 1904 when the first demonstration was done in Italy pointed out that geothermal energy is considered a renewable energy source because “the heat emanating from the interior of the earth is essentially limitless”. The interiors of the earth is expected to remain extremely hot for billions of years, ensuring an essentially limitless flow of heat. Geothermal power plants capture this heat and convert it to energy, in the form of electricity.

“One of the greatest challenges facing the country today is the production of sufficient energy to power its economy. A secure and sustainable energy mix is one of the central challenges which Uganda faces in the years ahead, as the whole world responds to the challenges of climatic change, energy security and economic competitiveness.” Geothermal energy is a major resource and potential source of low-emission renewable energy, suitable for baseload electricity generation and direct use application, added the report.

Uganda’s generation capacity is expected to more than double in the next four to five years after the completion of the 600MW Karuma hydro power plant and other power projects. It is also expected that power tariffs will drop since it costs 11 cents per unit – the highest in the region. At such a time, the use of geothermal energy is viable since Uganda is endowed with substantial geothermal resources with potential to provide baseload power 24 hours a day and three hundred sixty five days a year.
Uganda’s energy body said that geothermal energy could solve three problems – energy reliability and security, economic development and air quality. It is a versatile energy form as it can be used to produce power in utility scale facilities or for a wide variety of direct use applications such as spas, swimming pools, baths, heating green houses and dehydrating agricultural products.

In addition to environmental benefits, the industry could also create jobs, boost rural economy with royalties and taxes with the benefit of staying close to home rather than being spent on foreign fuels.

Workforce for the geothermal industry:
According to the Ugandan Energy Ministry, the government is putting in place a geothermal industry workforce with skills necessary to enable rapid development of the industry. This is mainly because Uganda faces multiple and complex challenges in securing affordable and reliable energy supplies to support sustainable economic development. The power review stated that geothermal exploration and development involves preliminary surveys, exploration, drilling, project review and planning, production drilling, construction and commissioning; Uganda is at the exploration stage and aiming to locate drilling targets. It has also received technical assistance from Japan’s JICA and also signed an MoU with the Kenyan government to help expedite geothermal development in Uganda.

Varied challenges in the field:
Despite such efforts, the Ministry feels challenges to geothermal development in the country are many and include resource identification and characterisation, economics, financial risks, development risks, environmental misconception and transaction costs among others. “When properly developed and managed, geothermal is a clear, abundant reliable source of renewable energy power and is uniquely reliable, with conventional geothermal plants typically achieving much higher load factors compared to typical load factors for hydro power plants.”

Geoffrey Muleme

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