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The heat of the earth gushing from the savanna accelerates the African economy

Blog post   •   Sep 28, 2016 08:00 GMT

Africa is blessed with undeveloped natural resources, and the economy is growing rapidly. A young population, a move to urbanization and advances in electrification are accelerating improvement in quality of life. However, the reality is that, depending on location, the installed capacity of power generation equipment is only 1/100 to 1/10 that of developed countries. Improving supply from a stable, locally available energy source is an urgent necessity, and against this background countries in East Africa are turning to the geothermal power potential of the Great Rift Valley.

Olkaria, 100km northwest of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, lies in a volcanic region almost at the center of the Great Rift Valley. It’s a place where the heat of the earth bursts wildly from crevices, from deep below the surface, an energy source in itself. Olkaria is a hot zone, almost a symbol of the heat rising in Africa’s economy.

The geothermal power plant at Olkaria is a cornerstone of "Vision2030", the Kenyan government’s energy policy. The current electrification rate is around 56%, but the target for 2020 is 70%, part of a plan to transition from a moderately developed to developed country. Towards this, commercial operation of Olkaria No. 1 and No. 4 geothermal power plants started in January 2015. These geothermal power plants in the savanna are a major project supplying 280MW of electric power, equivalent to about 20% of Kenya’s total generating capacity in Kenya.

Why geothermal energy is an important energy source in Africa

Until now, hydroelectric-power generation accounted for the large majority of power plants in Africa. However, water shortages from severe drought are becoming chronic, and the operation of hydro plants is less stable, bringing a pressing need for an alternative source of other stable power.

In Kenya, geothermal power was selected from among several candidates. This parallels Japan, famous for its abundant geothermal resources, where high expectations are driving new development of geothermal plants to contribute to stable power supply. However, geothermal energy in Africa differs in its scale. In Japan, the 110MW Hatchobaru power plant is the largest; Olkaria No. 1 and No. 4 plant both boast about 2.5 times that capacity.

Geothermal energy generated using natural steam channeled from deep underground to turn a turbine is a CO2-free renewable energy. It not only contributes to environmental conservation, it also provides stable power supply with an operating ratio of over 90%, free from the influence weather or time of day. It’s a system highly suited to the rapidly growing Africa in the 21st century. Kenya is a leader in developing geothermal power generation in East Africa. Its neighbors, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Tanzania, are following in its footsteps.

Toshiba has a proud track record of over 50 years of development of geothermal energy systems, and has supplied about 23%—the top share—of the world’s geothermal generation capacity. That includes provision of geothermal steam turbines and dynamos, the core equipment for Olkaria No.1 and No.4. However, success in geothermal energy is the only one part of the company’s efforts to expand business in Africa.

Toshiba, provider of 23% of global geothermal energy capacity, contributes to energy development in Africa

Toshiba has concluded memoranda of understanding (MOU) with Djibouti’s Office Djiboutien de Développement de l'Energie Géothermique (ODDEG) and Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) that envisage comprehensive collaboration in the geothermal power generation business. Under the terms of the MOU, Toshiba will develop and provide key equipment, and work with both countries to cultivate their extensive geothermal resources and provide training for personnel working in plants.

Separately, in Kenya, Toshiba’s India subsidiary, Toshiba Transmission & Distribution Systems (India) Pvt. Ltd., has received an order for 8,000 transformers for power distribution.

Through geothermal energy and other technologies it has cultivated, Toshiba is supporting Africa’s energy policy.

At the "Japan Fair" at the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 27 and 28, Toshiba exhibited its geothermal energy equipment, and clearly demonstrated its support for development of African geothermal energy. The display attracted close attention from participants.

TICAD is a Japan-led conference dedicated to support of African development that was initiated in 1993. Until now, its meetings have been held in Japan, and this year’s meeting was the first in Africa for the first time this year.

The heat of the earth gushes forth from the vast continent. From an energy frontier, Africa, business opportunities spring inexhaustibly.

* Operating plant capacity basis, Source:Bloomberg New Energy Finance (May, 2016)